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Author of "CIVILIZATION, 1914-1917," etc.
ELEANOR STIMSON BROOKS
THE CENTURY CO.
Copyright, 1919, by
THE CENTUBY Co.
Published, September, 1919
MY SON BERNARD
I am beginning a book with what sounds like a
very ambitious title.
I wish to say at once that I have no qualifications
to discuss political, historical or economic matters.
I leave to the scholars who are versed in these re-
doubtable questions the task of explaining, skilfully
and definitely, the great misery that has befallen our
I thus at the same time renounce most of the op-
portunities and obligations of my title.
But I wish, with all my heart, to pursue with a
few people of good will a friendly discussion the ob-
ject of which remains, in spite of all, the heart's do-
main, or the possession of the world.
The possession of the world is not decided by guns.
It is the noble work of peace. It is not involved in
the struggle which is now rending society.
Even so, men will find themselves engaged in an
undertaking that will threaten to overwhelm them
with suffering and despair.
* Fate has assigned to me during the war a place
and a task of such a character that misery has been
the only thing I have seen ; it has been my study
and my enemy every moment. I must be forgiven
for thinking of it with a persistence that is like an
The whole intelligence of the world is absorbed by
the enterprise and the necessities of the war ; there
is little chance of rousing it now from this in favor
of the happiness of the race, in favor of that happi-
ness which is compromised for the future and de-
stroyed for the present. It is to the heart one must
address oneself. It is to all the generous hearts
that one must make one's appeal.
So, if I am spurred by an ambition, it is to beg
the world to seek once more whatever can lighten the
present and the future distress of mankind, to seek
the springs of interest that exist for the soul in a
life harassed with difficulties, perils and disillusion-
ments, to honor more than ever the faithful and in-
corruptible resources of the inner life.
The inner life!
It has never ceased to shine, a precious, quiver-
ing flame, devoting all its ardor in a struggle against
the breath of these great events, resisting this
tempest which has had no parallel.
It has never ceased to shine, but its shy and faith-
ful light trembles in a sort of crypt into which we
fear to venture.
What has happened has seized upon us as upon
its prey. During the first months of the war, dur-
ing the first years perhaps, all our physical and
moral energies were overwhelmed in this maelstrom.
How, indeed, could one refuse oneself to the appetite
of the monster? We did not even try to snatch
from him our hours of leisure, our dreams. We
simply abandoned such things, as we abandoned our
plans, our welfare, and the whole of our existence.
You remember ! It was a time when solitude
found us more shaken, more disarmed, than peril.
We reproached ourselves for distracting a single one
of our thoughts from the universal distress. We
gave ourselves day and night to this agonizing
world ; and when our work was suspended, when the
wild beast unloosed its clutch, as if in play, and
we returned for a few minutes to ourselves, we did
not always dare to look the quivering inner flame
in the face. What it lighted up in us seemed at
times too foreign to our anxiety, or too filled with
limpid serenity. And so we returned to our wretch-
edness, experiencing it to the point of intoxication,
to the point of despair.
When I think of the year 1915, it seems to me
that I still hear all those noble comrades saying to
me with a sort of dejection: " I can't think of any-
thing else! I can neither read, nor work, nor seek
to distract myself to any purpose. When I 'm off
duty I think about these days, I think about them
unceasingly, till I feel seasick, till I feel dizzy. I 've
just had two hours of liberty. Once upon a time I
should have given them to Pascal or to Tolstoy.
Today I have employed them in reading some docu-
mentary works on the manufacture of torpedoes and
on European colonial methods. They are subjects
that will always be outside my line, subjects I shall
never be interested in. But how can I think of any-
thing else? "
Perhaps it is not a question of thinking of any-
thing else. It is not a question of turning one's
back on the time, but rather of looking it in the face,
calmly and collectedly.
When the first great excitement had passed away,
those who had the wisdom and the courage to return
assiduously to themselves found their inner life en-
nobled, augmented, enriched. For it does not cease
to labor on in the depths of us. It is at once our-
selves and something other than ourselves, better
than ourselves. Like certain of our organs which
are endowed with a marvelous independence and pur-
sue a vigilant activity in the midst of our agitations
and our sleep, the inner life comes to its fruitage
even though we are full of ingratitude and indiffer-
ence towards it. It is the faithful spouse who keeps
the home radiant, arranges every comfort and spins
at the wheel, behind the door, awaiting our return.
And behold we are returning!
To be sure, the storm still roars on. It grows
greater, more furious, more unending. Never has it
seemed more complex, more grave, more difficult.
Peril has taken up its abode with us. Every sort of
opinion holds up its head and vehemently solicits
But we have found once more the key and the path
to the secret refuge. Nothing could turn us aside
now. Nothing could prevent us at certain hours
from plunging into solitude, there to find again the
equilibrium, the harmony and those moral riches
which we know, after the ruin of so many things,
are alone efficacious, alone durable.
For long months now I have realized, watching
the men with whom I live, that they are waiting for
words of quietude, words of rest and love. They
are like parched soil at the end of a blazing summer :
they long to slake their thirst and grow green
In vain have destruction, disorder and death tried
to break up the sublime and familiar colloquy that
every being pursues with the better part of himself.
That colloquy revives, it begins again, in the very
midst of the battle, among the odors and the groans
of the hospital.
Nevertheless, the daily work is done, well done ;
duty is properly weighed and accomplished; the soul
simply is unwilling any longer to renounce its modi-
tation upon all that is profound, imperishable, and
immaterial in the present.
Tell me that we are going to labor in concert once
more at the exploitation of our inner fortune. Tell
me that we are going to labor to save from shipwreck
that part of us which, in spite of all our errors, un-
certainties, crimes and disillusionments, remains
truly noble and worthy of eternity.
I am able to undertake this e^say thanks to the
leisure moments the war has been willing to grant
me. It is not purely the fruit of solitary medita-
tions. I do not live alone: my chosen comrades sur-
round me; they share with me the confused space
of our dwelling; we share together all the thoughts
that fill this space.
Friendship has accomplished the miracle of trans-
forming into a communion what, without it, would
have remained a promiscuity.
I have a feeling that I am expressing the desires
and the thoughts of many men. Very soon, those
who are here will be going to sleep ; I shall continue
my writing, but with the secret certitude of not be-
ing alone in the task, of carrying with me their tacit
assent. I feel that I have been entrusted with a
sort of mandate.
I have no library, no documents. But do we need
books in order to converse together of the things
that form the very substance of our existence?
Does it not suffice to consult our souls? Do we need
any other guarantee than our devout desire in order
to lift an open hand and make, for all those who
await it in their solitude, the sign of concord and of
I TH HOPE OF HAPPINESS 3
II POVERTY AND RICHES 21
III THE POSSESSION OF OTHERS 33
IV ON DISCOVERING THE WORLD .... 69
V THE LYRICS OF LIFE 94
VI SORROW AND RENUNCIATION 110
VII THE SHELTER OF LIFE 126
VIII THE CHOICE OF THE GRACES 146
IX APOSTLESHIP 160
X ON THE REIGN or THE HEART . . 178
THE HEART'S DOMAIN
THE HEART'S DOMAIN
THE HOPE OF HAPPINESS
IT was necessary for me to pass middle age in
order to become convinced that happiness was
the object of my life, as it is the object of all human-
ity, as it is the object of the whole world of living
At first sight, that statement seems self-evident.
And yet many a time have I questioned my friends,
my relatives, my chance companions on this subject
and I have received the most contradictory replies.
Many seemed taken unawares and, overwhelmed
with their various burdens, would not trouble to seek
an object : they were in pursuit of happiness with-
out naming it. Others, excited by the play of argu-
ment, acknowledged as the object of life all sorts of
states or manners of being which are nothing but
steps toward happiness, means good or bad of seek-
ing it, such as movement, stoical indifference, or
4 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
prayer. Others confused the end with the object
and named death. Still others, maddened by their
misery, gave it as their bitter conclusion that unhap-
piness is the actual destiny of man, and these con-
fused the obstacle with the aim. Finally, there were
some who gave to happiness names dictated by their
aspirations, their culture, their accustomed manner
of using words, and called it God, or eternal life,
or the salvation of the soul.
As for me, in spite of all, I am sure that happiness
is the object of life. This certitude has come to me
altogether from within, not from outside events, and
not from the spectacle of other men. Like all the
certitudes of the inner life, it is obstinate and even
aggressive. All objections seem simply made to
fortify it. It dominates them all. I have not been
able even to imagine a new certitude that could in-
validate or replace this one.
Upon reflection, the path and the end are identical.
Happiness is not only the aim, the reason of life,
it is its means, its expression, its essence. It is life
One might well doubt this. The whole of human-
ity at this moment utters one despairing, heart-rend-
ing cry. It bellows like a wounded beast of burden,
it simply does not understand its wound.
THE HOPE OF HAPPINESS 5
All convictions and all certitudes are at one an-
other's throats. How can we recognize them, with
that lost look they have, that blood that soils and
disfigures them? In the hurricane, opinions, up-
rooted, have lost their soil and their sap. They
drift like autumn thistles, dry thistles that yet have
power to tear the skin. Men no longer know any-
thing but their insurmountable suffering, a suffering
that has no limit and seems to be without reason.
They groan and desire nothing but to be alleviated.
Will a century of pious tenderness suffice to bathe,
drain, close the vast wound?
Without delay, O streaming wound, your living
flesh must be stanched and bathed. From now on,
no matter how long you bleed, you must be anointed
and protected, and if you are opened up again ten
times, ten times must you be anointed anew and
covered once more.
Yet, do not doubt it, humanity even in this ter-
rible hour seeks for nothing but its own happiness.
It rushes forward, by instinct, like a herd that smells
the salt-lick and the spring. But it will suffocate
rather than not enjoy everything together and at
God ! who has given it this painful and ridiculous
idea? What were they about, the priests, the
scientists, and the people who write the books?
6 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
What has been taught the children of men that they
could have been made to believe that war brings hap-
piness to anyone? Let them declare themselves,
those who have assured the poor in spirit that their
happiness depends upon the possession of a province,
an iron-mine, or a foaming arm of the sea between
two distant continents!
It is thus that they have all set out for the con-
quest of happiness, since that is destiny, and there
has been placed in their hands precisely what was
certain to destroy happiness forever.
And yet, if you will bear with me, we need not
lose all hope. So long as there is a single wall-flower
to tremble in the coming Aprils over the ruins of the
world, let us repeat from the depths of our hearts:
" Happiness, you are truly my end and the reason
for my being, I know it through my own tears."
I went, lately, to a laboratory, in the heart of a
wilderness of glass and porcelain, haunted with in-
human odors. A friend dwelt there. I saw a great
crystal cask full of distilled water ; the sunlight quiv-
ered through it freely and majestically. There, I
thought, is the desert. That water contained noth-
ing, it was unfitted for life, it was as empty as a dead
But then we scratched the bottom of the cask and
THE HOPE OF HAPPINESS 7
looked at it with the microscope. Little round,
green algae were growing in that desert. A current
of air had carried the germs, and they had increased
and multiplied. There where there was nothing to
seize upon, they had yet found something. The
taste of barren glass, a few stray grains of dust,
that soulless water, that sunlight, they had asked for
nothing more in order to subsist and work out their
I thought of this virtue of life, <this perseverance,
as of a hymn to happiness, a silent hymn prevailing
over the roars of the conquest.
Nothing discourages life except, perhaps, the ex-
cess of itself.
If Europe, too rich and too beautiful, is to be
henceforth the vessel of all the sorrows, it is because
happiness has assumed an unclean mask: the mask
of pleasure. For pleasure is not joy.
Patience! The whole world has not been poi-
I know of mosses that succeed in living upon acids.
The antiseptics, whose property it is to destroy liv-
ing things, are at times invaded by these obstinafe
fungi which encamp there, acclimatize themselves and
modestly fulfil their destiny.
One must have confidence in happiness. One must
have more confidence than ever, for never was hap-
piness more greatly lacking to the mass of men. So
8 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
cruelly is the world astray, so immensely, so evi-
dently, too, that we cannot wait for the consumma-
tion to denounce it and reprove it.
Like those algae, those mosses, those laborious
lichens that attach to the very ruins themselves their
infinite need of happiness, let us seek our joy in the
distress of the present and make it open for us, like
a plant beaten by the winds, in the desert of a blasted
You must understand that this concerns happiness
and not pleasure, or well-being, or enjoyment, or the
delight of the senses.
All cultivated people have created different words
to designate these different things. All have com-
mitted their moralists to the task of preserving
simple souls from a confusion which our instincts
Delight of the senses, you who are the eternally un-
satisfactory, is it true, intangible one, that you will
always deceive us and that we shall always seek for
happiness through you?
What seductiveness is not yours, you who smile
with the lips of love, O mysterious phantom of joy?
How you lure us and enchain us! Well you know
how to array yourself, at times, in the appearance
of a sacred mission, a religious duty !
THE HOPE OF HAPPINESS 9
No, you are not happiness, divine though you are !
To live without you is a bitter misfortune, but you
are not happiness !
Why does happiness command us to sacrifice you
often, to mistrust you always?
There is no happiness without harmonv ; you know
this very well, you who are delicious disorder itself,
death, laughter, strife.
Happiness is our home-land. You are only the
burning country we long for, the tropical isle where
our dreams exile themselves, never to return.
Happiness is our true kingdom. Delight of the
senses, let your slaves hymn your praise.
During the summer of 1916 I found among the
meadows of the Marne a flower that had three odors.
It is a very common flower in France: it adorns a
low and spiny plant which the peasants call " arrete-
bceuf" Toward midday, at the hour when the sun
exasperates all its creatures, this flower exhales three
different odors : the first is soft, fresh and resembles
the perfume of the sweet pea ; the second is sharp
and makes one think of phosphor irritant, of a
flame ; the third is the secret breath of love. This
miraculous flower really has all three of these odors
at once, but we perceive them more easily one at a
time because we are not worthy of all this wealth.
10 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
This little discovery descended upon my weary
head like a benediction. At that time we were leav-
ing the miseries of Verdun behind and were just
on the point of plunging into those of the Somme.
The intermediate rest depressed us and enervated
us by turns. In the walks across the fields which we
took with our comrades, I grew accustomed every
day to gather a root of arrcte-bceuf and offer it, as
a gift, to those who accompanied me, so that they
might share my discovery.
Some of them, anxious about the world and their
own fortune, took pleasure in this modest marvel.
They breathed in with these perfumes the inexhaust-
ible variety of the lavish universe. They distin-
guished and recognized, smilingly, the three odors of
this one being. They honored these three am-
bassadors whom a people of unknown virtues had as-
signed to them. They interpreted as a revelation
the little signs of the latent opulence which challenges
and disdains the majority of bewildered men.
But others remained insensible to this delicate
prayer, and these I thought of with chagrin as of
men who had no care for the welfare of their own
I know quite well you will say, " There is no rela-
tion between this flower and the welfare of the soul."
But this relation does exist, emphatically and
definitely. Truth shines out of every merest trifle
THE HOPE OF HAPPINESS 11
that goes to make up the world. We must fasten
our eyes ardently upon it, as if it were a light shin-
ing through the branches, arid march forward.
I am sure, we are all sure, that happiness is the
very reason for our existence. Let it be added at
once that happiness is founded upon possession, that
is to say, upon the perfect and profound understand-
ing of something.
For this reason men who have a high conception
of happiness aspire to the complete and definite
knowledge of an absolute, a perfection which they
name God. The desire for eternal life is a bound-
less need of possession.
Equally noble is the passionate desire of certain
men to understand, to possess themselves, to have
such an exact and merciless conception of their
moral and physical nature as will give them some
sort of mastery over it.
It is indeed a beautiful destiny to pursue the
understanding of the external world with the
weapons and the arguments of a science that is not
the slave of conquest. Men who achieve this may
indeed be called just.
Others wish to possess a house, a field, a pair of
earrings, an automobile. For them possession is not
understanding, it is above all else an exclusive and
almost solitary enjoyment. They deceive them-
selves about happiness and about possession. They
12 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
deceive themselves to the actual point of war, mas-
sacre and destruction.
If we wish it, we may possess the whole universe,
and it is in this possession that we shall find the sal-
vation of our souls. We may possess, for example,
that unknown something which walks by the road-
side, the color of the forest of pointed firs that rises
sharply against the southern horizon, the thoughts
of Beethoven, our dreams by night, the conception
of space, our memories, our future, the odor and the
weight of objects, our grief at this moment and
thousands and thousands of other things besides.
Is my soul immortal? Alas ! how can I still linger
in this ancient, ingenuous hope? There are millions
who, like me, can no longer give reasonable credence
to such an impossible happiness.
But does my soul exist? Every thought bears
witness that it does, and this life of ours too, and the
inexplicable life that is all about us.
When Christians speak of the salvation of the
soul, they are thinking of all sorts of assurances and
precautions in regard to that future life which re-
mains the greatest charm of religion and at the same
time its most wonderful weapon.
We can give a humbler but more immediate mean-
ing to this expression.
First of all, not to be ignorant of our own souls !
To think about the soul, to think about it at least
THE HOPE OF HAPPINESS 13
once in the confusion of every crowded day, is indeed
the beginning of salvation.
To think with perseverance and respect of the
soul, to enrich it unceasingly, that will be our
We have all known those men who, at the first
break of day, while they are still half awake and
barely rested, fling themselves into the stress of busi-
ness. They pass all day from one man to another
in a sort of blind, buzzing frenzy. They are cease-
lessly reaching out to take, to appropriate for them-
selves. If a moment of solitude offers itself, they
pull note-books out of their pockets and begin figur-
ing. Between whiles they eat, drink and seek a sort
of sleep that is more arid than death. Looking at
these unfortunates, who are often men of great im-
portance, one would imagine their souls were like de-
crepit poor relations, relegated to some corner of
their personality, with which they never concern
I was once returning from the country on a train
with a young surgeon on whom that cruel fortune
which we call success was beginning to smile. I can
still see him, breathless and almost stupefied, on the
seat facing me. He had been talking to me of his
work, of how he spent his time, with a restless ex-
14. THE HEART'S DOMAIN
citement which the noise of the train hammered and
disjointed and gave a sort of rhythm to. Evening
was falling. It gave me pleasure to look at the
young poplars in the valley beside the track, their
foliage and slender trunks transfigured by the sun-
set. My friend looked at them also, and suddenly
he murmured : "It 's true ! I 'm no longer in-
terested in those things, I no longer pay attention
to anything." Through the fatigue and anxiety of
his affairs, through the jingling calculation of his
profits, he suddenly caught a glimpse of his error,
of his real poverty. His repudiated soul stirred in
the depths of his being as the infant stirs in its
It is constantly awakening in this way and timidly
reclaiming its rights. Often, an unexpected word
strikes us, a word that comes from it and reveals it.
I have as a workfellow a quiet, studious young man
who takes life " seriously," that is to say, in such a
fashion that he gets himself into a fine state of mind
and will die, perhaps, without having known, with-
out having saved, the soul with which he is charged.
At the beginning of the month of June of this year
1918, I found myself hard at work during one of
those overwhelming afternoons that seem, on our
barren Champagne, like a white furnace, a glistening
desert. There were many wounded and the greater
part had been uncared for for several days ; the
THE HOPE OF HAPPINESS 15
barrack that served us as an operating-hall was
overcrowded ; our task was a tragic one ; the demon
of war had imprisoned us under his knee. We felt
crushed, exasperated, swamped in these immediate
realities. Between two wounded men, as I was soap-
ing my gloves, I saw my young comrade looking
far away through a little window and his gaze was
suddenly bathed with calm and peace. " What are
you looking at? " I said to him. " Oh ! nothing," he
replied ; " only I 'm resting myself on that little tuft
of verdure down there: it refreshes me so much."
It seems childish and paradoxical to oppose to all
the concrete and formidable realities that are consid-
ered as the hereditary wealth of mankind an almost
purely ideal world of joys that have no price, that
remain outside all our bargainings, that are un-
stable, often fugitive, and always relative in appear-
ance, whenever we put them to the test. Yet they
alone are absolute, they alone are true. Where they
are lacking there may be a place for amusement,
there is no place for true happiness. They alone
are capable of assuring the salvation of the soul.
We ought to labor passionately to find them, to
amass them as the veritable treasures of humanity.
The future we are permitted to glimpse seems the
very negation of happiness and the ruin of the soul.
16 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
If this is true, we must examine it with open minds
and then, with all our strength, refuse it.
Just this moment, when the struggle for mastery
goes on, to the great peril of the soul, among the
peoples, just this moment I choose for saying:
" Let us think of the salvation of our souls." And
this salvation is not a matter of the future but of
the present hour. Let us recognize the existence
of the soul; it is thus that we shall save it. Let us
give it the freedom of the city in a world where every-
thing conspires to silence or destroy it. If it is true
that this withdraws us from that struggle for exist-
ence, the clamor of which assails our ears, well, even
so, I believe it is better to die than to remain in a
universe from which the soul is banished. But we
shall have occasion to speak more than once of this.
Let us not forget that happiness is our one aim.
Happiness is, above all, a thing of the spirit, and we
shall only deserve it at the price of the honors we
render to the noblest part of our being.
There are people who have said to me, " My hap-
piness lies in this very hurly-burly, this brutish labor,
this frantic agitation which you spurn. Outside
this turmoil of business and society, I am bored. I
need it. I need it in order to divert my thoughts."
No doubt ! No doubt ! But what have you done
THE HOPE OF HAPPINESS 17
with your life that it has become necessary to divert
your thoughts? What have you made of your past,
what do you hope from your future when this al-
cohol, this opium, has become necessary to you?
You must understand me, there is no question, if
you are built as an athlete, of letting your muscles
deteriorate. There is no question, if you have a
great tbirst for controversy, a natural aptitude for
struggle, of letting that thirst go unsatisfied, that
aptitude uncultivated. The question is simply one
of harmoniously employing all these fine gifts, of en-
riching yourself with those real treasures the uni-
verse bestows on those who wish to take them, and
not of wearing out your radiant strength in the
labors of a street-porter, a galley-slave or an execu-
Here is a man who says to me : " My happiness !
My happiness ! But it consists in never thinking of
my soul." What a sad thing! And how gravely
one must have offended others and one's own self to
have reached that point !
For where shall he who loves torment, passionate
restlessness, uncertainty, and remorse discover these
terrible blessings if it is not in the depths of his own
If anyone tells you something strange about the
world, something you have never heard before, do
18 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
not laugh but listen attentively ; make him repeat it,
make him explain it: no doubt there is something
there worth taking hold of.
The cult of the soul is a perpetual discovery of it-
self and the universe which it reflects. The purest
happiness is not a stable and final frame of mind,
it is an equilibrium produced by an incessant com-
promise which has to be adroitly reestablished; it is
the rpward of a constant activity ; it increases in pro-
portion to the daily corrections one brings to it.
One must not cling obstinately to one's own in-
terpretations of the world but unceasingly renew the
flowers on tbc altar.
In quite another order of ideas I think of those
old-fashioned manufacturers who are immovably set
against trying any of the new machines and perish in
their stubbornness. That is nothing but a com-
parison: to justify the machine folly is quite the
opposite of my desire. I simply wish to show that
routine affects equally the things of the mind and of
the heart, that it is a very formidable thing.
Kipling, 1 believe, tells the story of a Hindu
colony that was decimated by famine. The poor
folk let themselves die of hunger without touching
the wheat that had been brought for them, because
they had been used to eating millet.
If the sacred lamp of happiness some day comes
to lack the ritual oil, we shall not let it go out; we
THE HOPE OF HAPPINESS 19
shall surely find something with which to feed it,
something that will serve for light and heat.
The will to happiness attains its perfection in the
mature man. With adolescence it passes through a
Nietzsche says: " There is less melancholy in the
mature man than in the young man." It is true.
Very young people cultivate sadness as something
noble. They do not readily forgive themselves for
not being always sad. They have discovered the
mysterious isle of melancholy and do not wish to
escape from it again. They love everything about
that black magician and his attitudes and his tears
and his nostalgia and his romantic beauty. They
have a fierce disdain for vulgar pleasures and take
refuge in sadness because they do not yet know the
splendor and majesty of joy.
But in their own fashion, which is full of disdain,
reserve and ingenuous complexity, they do not any
the less seek for happiness.
With age happiness appears as truly the sole,
serene study of man. As he rests upon the moral
possession of the world, he believes that with time and
experience he can remain insensible to the wearing
out of his bodily organs.
He who knows how to be happy and to win for-
20 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
giveness for his happiness, how enviable he is ! the
only true model among those that are wise.
It is now, just now, that these things ought to be
said, in the hour when our old continent bleeds in
every member, in the hour when our future seems
blotted out by the menace of every sort of servitude
and of a hopeless labor that will know neither
measure nor redemption.
POVERTY AND RICHES
THE Christian doctrine, which has all the
beauties, has all the audacities too. It has
endeavored to make the sublime and daring notion
prevail among the mass of men that salvation is re-
served for the poor. What a magnificent thing!
And if this religion of poverty has degenerated in the
course of the centuries, with what consolation has it
not bathed those thrice-happy souls whom an un-
broken faith guides through misery and humiliation !
But there has never been a religion which has been
able to found itself upon renunciation without com-
pensation. Is he poor, this man who consents to go
unclad, roofless, unfed, up to the day when there will
be showered upon him all the riches of the kingdom of
God? Has he no thought of a supreme gift, of a
magnificent possession, the man to whom his master,
in person, has given the command : " Lay up your
treasures in heaven, where they will not be lost "?
He does not exist, the hopeless being who does not
22 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
hunger for some treasure, even if it is an imaginary
one, even an unreal one, even one that is lost in a be-
In what an abyss of poverty should we groan if our
kingdom were not of this world and were nowhere
outside the world, either?
And now a generation of men has come that no
longer believes in the supernatural felicities of the
future life and seems no longer to have anything to
hope from a world consumed by hatred and given over
inevitably, for long years, to confusion, destitution,
In truth, the programmes of the social factions
have no consolation for us, there is nothing in them
that speaks of love and the true blessings ; all these
monuments of eloquence bring us back to hatred and
The most generous of them only give us glimpses
of new struggles, new sheddings of blood, when our
age is drunk with crime and fatigue. To whichever
side the individual turns he finds himself crushed,
scoffed at, sacrificed to insatiable, hostile gods.
A few years ago Maeterlinck wrote : " Up to the
present men have left one religion to enter another ;
but when we abandon ours, it is not to go anywhere.
That is a new phenomenon, with unknown conse-
quences, in the midst of which we live."
Having quoted these words, I hasten to add that
POVERTY AND RICHES 23
the war is no particular consequence of this moral
state of the world. The question of religion is
not involved at all. The priests are quite ready to
abuse these easy oppositions in order to obtain argu-
ments in favor of their cause. But they know well
enough, alas ! that if the teaching of Christ stigma-
tizes wars, the religions have only contributed to
multiply and aggravate them. They know very well
that, in the conflict that now divides the earth, the
religions have shown themselves enslaved to the
states. No one has wished to take up the wallet and
staff of the dead Tolstoy.
Humanity seems poorer and more truly disinher-
ited than ever. Its kingdom is in itself and in
everything that surrounds it; but it has sold it for
a morsel of bread. And how can one reproach it for
this ? It is very hungry and its heart is not open to
We shall seek together the materials of our happi-
ness. Together we shall pile up all those marvelous
little things that must constitute our patrimony, our
We shall have great misfortunes and we shall often
be bitterly deceived. It is because the war has suc-
ceeded in depriving the simplest and the most sacred
things of the light of eternity. That is not the least
consequence of the catastrophe. We must make a
24 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
painful effort to recover that light and clear it of its
blemishes. Silence, solitude, the sky, the vestiture of
the earth, all the riches of the poor have been sullied
as if forever. The works of art have been mutilated.
They have taken refuge under the earth where they
seem to veil their faces.
We ought to seek and gather together the debris
so that we can take up and love in secret every day
the fragments of our liberties.
We ought to think unceasingly of that " mean
landscape " of which Charles Vildrac has spoken in
one of his most beautiful poems. It is an unfruitful
landscape, despoiled, denatured by the sad labor of
men, and apparently worn out ;
But even so you found, if you sought there,
One happy spot where the grass grew rich,
Even so you heard, if you listened,
The whisper of leaves
And the birds pursuing one another.
And if you had enough love,
You could even ask of the wind
Perfumes and music . . .
We shall have enough love! That shall be the
principle and source of our wealth.
And so we shall not have a whole life of poverty.
When love, that is to say, grace, abandons us, we
shall perhaps know hours of poverty. That will help
us all the better to understand our hours of opulence,
and all the better cherish them.
POVERTY AND RICHES 25
If you wish, we can divide our task, enumerate the
coffers in which we are to pile our treasures.
First of all, let us stop over a word. We have
said: to possess is to know. The definition may
seem to you arbitrary. On the chance of this I open
my little pocket dictionary, which is the whole library
I have as a soldier, and read : " To possess : to have
for oneself, in one's power, to know to the bottom."
Let us accept that. We shall see, page by page, if
it is possible for us to satisfy these naive, direct defi-
What is most certain to attract our glance, when
we look about us, is the world of men, our fellow-
creatures. Their figures are certainly the most af-
fecting spectacle that can be offered us. Their acts
undoubtedly constitute, owing to a natural inclina-
tion and an indestructible solidarity, the chief object
of our curiosity. Good! We shall possess them
first of all. We shall possess this inexhaustible fund
of other people.
We shall feel no shame then in contemplating, with
a noble desire, whatever strikes our senses, the ani-
mals, that is to say, the plants, the material universe
of stones and waters, the sky and even the populous
stars. These, too, ought to be well worth posses-
26 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
Already our wealth seems immense. Our ambition
is still greater: we must possess our dreams. But
have not illustrious men made more beautiful dreams
than ours? Yes, and these men are called Shake-
speare, Dante, Rembrandt, Goethe, Hugo, Rodin ;
there are a hundred of them, even more; their works
form the royal crown of humanity. We shall possess
that crown. It is for us it was forged, for us it was
bejewelled with immortal joys.
It would be vain to extend our possession only into
space. It overruns time : we possess the past, that is
to say, our memories, and the future in our hopes.
And then we also possess, and in the strictest sense
of all, our sorrows, our griefs, our despair, if that
supreme and terrible treasure is reserved for us.
Finally, there will be times when we possess noth-
ing but an idea, but this may perhaps be the idea of
the absolute or the infinite. If it is given us to pos-
sess God, then, no doubt, nothing else will be neces-
sary to us.
Every time that we possess the world purely we
shall find that we have touched an almost unhoped for
happiness, for it is always being offered to us and
we do not think of it : we shall possess ourselves.
We shall share all our riches with our companions :
that shall be our apostolate. And we shall manage
in some way to resist the seductions or the commands
of a society that is going to ruin, a society that is
POVERTY AND RICHES 87
even more unhappy and abused than corrupt. If, in
consequence, we are permitted to glimpse, even if only
for the space of a minute, a little more happiness
about us, a little more happiness than there is at
present, we shall at last be so happy as to accept
death with joy.
The greatest of all joys is to give happiness, and
those who do not know it have everything to learn
about life. The annals of humanity abound with
illustrious deeds aptly proving that generosity en-
riches first of all those who practise it.
Not to mention any celebrated instance, I shall tell
you one simple little tale. It is of the truth I live on,
my daily bread.
Just now, not far from me, there is a young
English soldier from the neighborhood of York who is
so severely wounded in the lower part of the stomach
that the natural functions of the body have been
completely upset and he has been reduced to a state
of terrible suffering.
And yet, when I went to see him this morning, this
boy gave me an extraordinary smile, his very first, a
smile full of delicacy and hope, a smile of resurrec-
Presently I learned the cause of this great joy.
The dying man pulled from under his pillow a
28 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
cigarette he had hidden there, which he had secretly
saved for me and now gave me.
There are many who preach an unpretentious life
and the sweetness of possessing a little garden. The
most magnificent of gardens is insignificant compared
with this world in which nothing is refused us. Ac-
cepting the little garden we should have the air of
those dispossessed kings who lose an empire to be
ironically dowered with a small island.
If we find it pleasant to employ our muscles in dig-
ging the earth, there are a thousand spots where we
can easily practise this wholesome and fruitful exer-
cise. But we shall never really possess a single clod
of earth because a legal deed has declared that it
belongs exclusively to us. The world itself! Our
love demands the whole world ; the rocks, the clouds,
the great trees along the highway, the darting flight
of birds, receding into the evening, the rustling ver-
dure high above that wall that vainly strives to shut
in the private property of someone else, the shining
glory of those flowers we glimpse through the iron
railings of a park, and even that very wall and rail-
According to the stretch of our wings, the scope of
our desires, we shall possess whatever our hands touch
with ardor and respect, whatever delights our eyes
POVERTY AND RICHES 29
from the summits of mountains, whatever our
thoughts bring back from their travels through legen-
To possess the world is purely a question of the
intensity of our understanding of it. One does not
possess things on their surfaces but in their depths ;
but the spirit alone can penetrate into the depths,
and for the spirit there is no barrier.
Many men to whom the law allows the gross, official
possession of a statue, a gem, a beautiful horse or a
province wear themselves out fulfilling a role to which
no human being has received a call. Every moment
they perceive with bitterness that men who have no
legal title whatever to these material goods draw
from them a delight that is superior to the enjoyment
they themselves get from them as absolute owners.
They often find, in this way, that a friend appreciates
their beautiful pictures better fhan they do, that a
groom is a better judge of their own stables, that a
passer-by draws out of " their landscape " a purer
joy than theirs and more original ideas. They take
their revenge by obstinately confusing the usage of a
thing with its possession.
Jesus said that the rich man renounced the king-
dom of God. He renounces many other things as
well. For if he shuts himself up within his proud
walls, he abandons the marvelous universe for a small
fragment of it ; and if he is actually curious about
30 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
the universe, if he appreciates its significance, how
can he consent without guilt to hide a portion of it
away from the contemplation of others?
In order to express the gross and exclusive posses-
sion of things society has invented various words and
phrases that betray the weak efforts of men to appro-
priate for themselves, in spite of everything, in spite
of the laws of love, the riches that remain the prerog-
ative of all. They speak, for example, of " dispos-
ing of a piece of property," which means having it
subject to our pleasure, being able to do as we choose
with it. The sacrilegious vanity of this view of the
world gives the possessor, as his supreme right, the
power to destroy his own treasure. He could not,
indeed, have a greater right than that. But what
sort of desperate possession is it, I ask, that considers
the destruction of the object possessed as the supreme
manifestation of power?
The world has long known and still knows slavery.
Lords and masters claimed the extravagant right of
disposing of other human beings. They all insisted,
as a mark of authority, on their right of dealing
death to their slaves. But truly, what was the power
of these despots compared with the deep, sensitive,
voluntary bond that united Plato to Socrates, or
John to Christ?
Epictetus suffered at the hands of Epaphroditus.
For all that, Epaphroditus was not able to prevent
POVERTY AND RICHES 31
his slave from reigning, through his thought, over
the centuries. Epaphroditus' right of possession
seems to us ridiculous and shameful. Who can fairly
envy him when so many centuries have passed judg-
ment on him?
Every philosophy has given magnificent expression
to these immortal truths. What can we add to the
words of Epictetus, of Marcus Aurelius, of Christ in
regard to the vanity of those riches which alone
society admits to be of value?
But the poets have said to us, " Do not abandon
the world, for it abounds in pure and truly divine
joys that will be lost if you do not harvest them ! "
The road that ought to be sweet for us to follow
crosses now that of the Christians, now that of the
Stoics. We may stop now at the Garden of Olives,
now at the threshold of that small house without a
door, without furnishings, where the master of Arrien
used to live.
Our road will lead us even more often through wild,
solitary places, or to the pillow of some man who
sleeps in the earth, or to the smiling dwelling of some
humble friend, or again into the melodious shadow
where the souls of Beethoven and Johann Sebastian
Bach forever dwell.
We shall not struggle with the mass of deluded man
32 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
to possess the known, so long as the unknown remains
without a master. We shall give up crude material
possession in order to dream all the better of spiritual
No, we cannot any longer renounce our kingdom
when it calls to us, when for us it sings, hosanna !
And those of us who already have their place in the
kingdom of heaven must not hesitate to demand their
share of this world also ; for the world has been given
to all men so that each man, with the help of all the
rest, may possess the whole of it.
THE POSSESSION OF OTHERS
IN the exile of the war I have fifteen comrades, and
we live side by side like seamen on the deck of a
ship. Everything brings us together: work, sleep,
play, food and danger. Even our quarrels reunite
us, for, in order to quarrel well, you have to know
your man : between strangers disputes have little
I never chose these men for my companions, as I
once thought I had a right to do. They have been
given to me like a handful of fruit of which some is
juicy and some green. They have been taken at ran-
dom, as if by a drag of that net which respects noth-
ing, from the swarming species of man. Thanks,
therefore, to the blind and divine world which has
thrown the net into the flood !
They are my treasure, my study, and my daily
task. They are my purpose, my horizon, my tor-
ment, and my recompense.
Although far from my own people, far from those
34. THE HEART'S DOMAIN
with whom I have carried on my life, I could not feel
myself destitute, abandoned ; the world is not empty
for me since I have these fifteen men to manage, this
cherished problem to ponder, this soil to work over,
this vintage for the winepress.
I accept the gift, the restless opulence, the fifteen
glances that open on fifteen different heavens where
there shine neither the same seasons nor the same
stars, those fifteen proud, vindictive souls whom I
must win over and subdue like wild horses.
To be sure, a few of these men are frank, level in
temperament, as plain to the eye as a smooth pebble
on the beach ; one touches them, holds them, grasps
them in a moment like a big piece of silver in the hol-
low of the hand. But so many others are change-
able, furtive, so many others are rough like ore in
which only the fissures glisten and betray the inner
The more unresponsive and secretive they seem,
without any obvious beauty, the more resolved I find
I am to look upon them as a treasure, to search
through them as if they were a soil that is full of
There are some of them that I love, there are some
whom I think that I do not love. What does it mat-
ter! The interest I devote to them is not in the
least dependent on the throbs of my heart. That one
who never speaks and conceals, under his obstinate
THE POSSESSION OF OTHERS 35
forehead, two little eyes of green glass, certainly
he does not naturally arouse my affection. Never-
theless, how different is the attention with which I
regard him from the curiosity of a scientist watching
the stirrings of fish in an aquarium ! It makes me
think, that attention, rather of the dizzy joy of the
miser who weighs a gold-piece, the effigy on which
does n't please him. Gold, nevertheless !
True! How could I feel bored with these faces
turned toward me, with this choir of human voices
singing, each in its own familiar key, yet blending
into the masculine clamor of an orchestra?
Everything they say is precious ; less so, however,
than what they keep to themselves. The reasons
they give for their actions astonish me at times ; those
they do not confess, especially those of which they
themselves are ignorant, always fill me with passion-
ate interest. A word, fallen from their lips like a
piece of paper from an unknown pocket, arrests me
and sets me dreaming for long days. About them I
build up daring and yet fragile hypotheses which
they either obligingly support or destroy with a care-
less gesture. I always begin again, delighting in it ;
it is my recreation. I enjoy finding that my hy-
potheses are right, for that satisfies my pride; I
enjoy finding I am wrong, for that reveals to me leafy
depths in my park that are still unexplored.
And then I know that only a small part of their
36 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
nature is involved in our intercourse. The rest
branches off, ramifies out into the perspectives of the
world. I think of it as of that side of the moon
which men will never see. I reconstruct with a pious,
a burning patience that life of theirs which is outside
this, their true life, endlessly complicated, linked by a
thousand tentacles with a thousand other unknown
lives. So must Cuvier's mind have wandered as he
turned and returned a fossil tooth, the only vestige of
some vast, unknown organism.
There is all this in people, and then there is the
past that each one has, his own past, his ancestors,
the prodigious combination of actions and of souls of
which he is the result And there is his future, the
unexplored desert toward which he stretches out
anxious tentacles, and into which I dare to venture,
I, the stranger, with trembling heart, the tiny lantern
in my hand.
These are my riches today. They are inalienable :
a man may flee from an indiscretion, he cannot escape
the grip of contemplation and love. Even if he de-
sired it, his very struggles would reveal his move-
ments, betray the deepest secrets of his being, deliver
him over bound hand and foot.
As for myself, eager to hoard up my treasure, I
give myself up without a struggle. Rich in others, I
yield myself into their hands. And if, in spite of
myself, I attempt some evasion, am I not sure to
THE POSSESSION OF OTHERS 37
render the prey all the more desirable, all the more
They say of curiosity that it was the beginning of
science. That is not praise enough, it sounds rather
like an excuse.
What is more human, more touching than this re-
ligious reaching out toward the unknown, this sort of
instinct which makes us divine and attack the mys-
To take pride in not being curious ! One might as
well take pride in some ridiculous infirmity. It is
true that even that is in the order of things normal,
and that vanity finds its nourishment where it can.
Doubtless there is a sort of curiosity which is both
weak and cowardly. It is that of men who dare not
remain alone a moment face to face with themselves ;
they take refuge in loquacity and in reading the
daily newspapers. Their fashion of interesting
themselves in everything that goes on is a confession
that they are unable to become interested in any-
thing eternal. They depend as if for nourishment on
that noise which those who have nothing to say arc
always making. They are like children who cannot
amuse themselves alone, or like stupid monarchs who
fear nothing so much as silence and their own
thoughts, the emptiness of their own thoughts !
38 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
And then there are the easy-going people. They
want to know everything, the number of your mater-
nal aunt's children, the price of the furniture and
the wages of the servants. They want to know
everything and they will never know anything.
Their life is spent in forced smiles and in gracefully
holding a cup of tea.
Their souls contain vast lists of names, dates and
other miserable things. They go through life like
beasts of burden, weighed down under loads that have
There are maniacs, too, perverts, freaks, people
that are full of curiosity about a postage stamp, the
handle of an umbrella; but of these I dare not say
anything, for I remember an old and very wise mas-
ter who used to say to us with a smile : " You who
are entering upon scientific careers must begin right
away to think about collections, even if you have to
collect boxes of matches."
To tell the truth, is it our business to be wise, to be
learned? Hardly! It is our business to be rich.
Well, then, there are not two kinds of curiosity.
Let us leave out of the question all those dull stupidi-
ties we dare to call by this name.
The curious man seems strangely uninterested in
that which excites the loquacity of trivial souls. He
does not trouble himself to find out the year in which
a house was built, or the honors accorded to the arch-
THE POSSESSION OF OTHERS 39
itect ; he dreams in secret of the tastes, the passions
of the man who had that little, low window pierced
on the north side and that black tree with its twisted
branches planted at the edge of the pond. He does
not ask a young woman the name of her dressmaker,
but trembles at the thought of understanding what
made her choose that disturbing dress to wear this
particular day. He does not question his mistress
about her opinion of him, but seeks passionately to
understand the opinion he has at this moment of her.
He does not hasten to ask his travelling companions
about their professions and the political opinions
they uphold, because, as he watches their faces, he is
studying discreetly and sympathetically the meaning
of the little wrinkle that moves between their brows,
or the significance of a glance, its source and its
object. He does not solicit confidences, he receives
them almost without wishing to ; they come naturally
to him ; he is their sure and deep receptacle.
Curious about all this vast world, he seems
especially concerned with its image in himself. He
bears his curiosity like a sacred gift and exercises it,
or rather honors it, as one would perform the rites of
Do not say you would not wish to be that man.
You who feel pride in possessing yourself of a secret,
in drawing out a confession, in meriting the confi-
dence of another man, must realize that it is a mar-
40 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
velous fortune to be thus the tenderly imperious con-
fidant who cannot be denied, though often the rest of
the world knows nothing of it. And it is possible for
you, even if you cannot become such a man at once,
at least to labor to become one. Begin, with this in
view, to deliver yourself from your little servile curi-
osities. Let us work together for this future. Let
us enter so deeply into ourselves that people will say
of us, " That man is not curious about anything."
From that moment we shall have begun to chant the
hymn of the great, the divine curiosity.
The possession of others is a passion, that is to
say, it is an ordeal, a painful effort. This supreme
joy, like all the joys to which we attach value, is born
out of suffering.
We must experience men in order to know them,
and our neighbor for whom, or through whom, we
have never had to endure any anguish, has surprises
in store for us, or else escapes us altogether: that is
almost a truism.
Like all others, this treasure cannot be acquired
without effort, without bitterness ; but it knows no
decay, it never ceases to grow through the mere play
of the forces of our life and seems as if sheltered from
the blows of fate. It does not, like money, depreci-
THE POSSESSION OF OTHERS 41
ate in value or serve ignoble ends. It only returns to
It is not strictly personal. It can be shared and
bequeathed. Since it escapes destruction and death,
it can become the most precious of heritages ; it has
this superiority over money, that its transmission is
really valid only after it has been in some sort of
way reconquered. It must fall into worthy hands
that will know how to work to preserve, cultivate and
build it up again. In certain points it resembles
what we call experience.
To suffer, first of all! That is surely one of the
grandeurs of our race, and we truly love our bless-
ings for what they have cost us in tears, in sweat, in
It is repugnant to the spirit to admit that any-
thing can be a blessing which the war has given.
The desperate folly of the Western world has engen-
dered and still holds in reserve such great misfortunes
that we cannot ransack all these ruins, these heaps of
bones, with any hope of extracting from them, as
ragpickers do with their hooks, some fragment that
is good, some useful bit of waste. No! There is
no excuse for this ferocious, immeasurable stupidity.
And yet, men have suffered so terribly from one
another that they have learned to know one another,
that is to say, to possess one another mutually. In
43 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
spite of my own denials, let me save this bit of wreck-
age from the general disaster. That is indeed one
blessing so dearly bought that we shall not willingly
give it up. And I do not speak here only of those
who have fought against each other ; I speak also of
those who have fought side by side, who have shed
their blood for the same cause and under the same
Companions have been given us, imposed upon us,
association with whom, even when casual and transi-
tory, would once have seemed impossible to us. Liv-
ing as free men, we sought to control the inevitable as
far as possible, to choose our own road and avoid
those whose opinions or points of view about the uni-
verse were likely to offend our own. We thus made
use of that liberty for the most part in order to
humor our irritable feelings, to lull our souls to sleep
in a precarious security, and restrict the area of our
Then came the war and we had not only to suffer
from the enemy, to endure unforeseen attacks in
regions of ourselves that we considered invulnerable,
but to suffer still more from our own messmates,
from those who commanded us and especially those
whom we commanded.
Could it have been otherwise? No! No! If
that suffering had been spared us, we should not
have been men, we should not have gone to war, we
THE POSSESSION OF OTHERS 43
should not have been those divine animals whom it is
so beautiful and so shameful to be and whom we can-
not help being.
We have been told that all suffering is sterile, hope-
less and without redemptive power. That it only
serves to nourish hatred. But how marvelous it is
when it engenders understanding, that is to say, pos-
session, that is to say, love!
I have observed that for many men, except in
actual bodily encounter, combat face to face, the
eaemy has lost all individual or specific character and
has become almost confounded with the great hostile
forces of nature: lightning, fire, tidal waves. The
bullet coming from so far away, the shell hurled from
beyond the horizon, all Chese mortal powers are sim-
ply like a form of blind destiny. In spite of daily
lessons in hatred, in spite of vociferations, these men
die courageously, with a resigned despair, without
But with other, less noble souls, the tendency to
aversion and quarreling, thus turned back from the
enemy, seeks its objects in their immediate surround-
ings and finds them, creates them, alas !
My comrades, my comrades, if the uncertainty of
your spirit, your agony, the rebelliousness of your
afflicted flesh urges you to seek those who are respon-
sible, do not look too angrily upon those who are
about you, do not, in your aberration, accuse Hou-
44 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
telette because he is a chatterbox, Exmelin because
he is an egoist, or Bleche because he is a rude, morose
commander. Do not place your misery to the ac-
count of Mcry, who is so slow in obeying, and be
willing to admit that Maurin is not to blame for
everything because his opinions are not the same as
yours. At least, if you must draw your circle of ani-
mosity, make it so close about you that it contains
only yourselves, and seek first of all in yourselves the
causes of your unhappiness.
Better still, apply yourselves to looking your suf-
fering in the face, putting it, with insight and pre-
cision, to the proof.
You know that a loathsome drink almost ceases to
be loathsome when you drink it without haste but
with a desire to appreciate the precise quality of its
bitterness. Exactly in this same manner you should
endeavor to measure, to study your suffering. In-
stead of abhorring it, try in a way to understand it ;
it will become interesting, curious, I dare not say
If Mery carries out your orders badly, consider
systematically how he can be made to become, in spite
of himself, a really good servant. If Bleche exer-
cises his authority in a way that incessantly wounds
you, interest yourself in his brutality, try to analyze
his movements, his expressions, his familiar habits,
and you will then be in a better position, not to
THE POSSESSION OF OTHERS 45
escape from him indeed, but to avoid at times the
sting, the cut of his peremptoriness. You will make
him restless by doing this, and you will set him think-
ing. It is not necessary for him to fear you, it is
enough for him to recognize in you a free force with
which he has to reckon, a force it is wise to pro-
pitiate. Meanwhile, to use a colloquialism, " you've
got him." Every time you have obliged him to be
less arrogant, more just with you, you can say that
you have " had " him, as the soldiers so admirably
This possession costs a certain amount of work.
But you are willing to toil eight hours in order to
earn ten francs that do not remain for a single day
between your fingers ; you can certainly afford a
few minutes of your effort and your soul to acquire a
treasure of which nothing will ever be able to deprive
The very rich man owns several estates. There is
always one that he prefers, that he frequents and
cultivates by choice. There are others where he goes
only from time to time, at the solicitation of some
state of his soul which inclines him to seek, for a
period, the mountains, or the ocean, or the open
country. There are some, finally, which he does not
love at all but of which, nevertheless, he will not
46 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
dispossess himself because they are part of his fol-
It is so with you who possess a family, friends,
comrades, and adversaries. It is so with you who
are able to draw, without let or hindrance, from the
immense well of humankind. You must refuse noth-
ing; you must accept everything, find out the value
of everything, store everything away. The world of
men is a rich patrimony, the exploitation of which
is expressly confided to you. You must not be a
bad administrator, you must make all your land
bring forth its fruit.
Choose every day what is necessary to you, for
you are the master.
You must know, besides, how to accept the in-
evitable and take chances, for you are nothing but a
Construct a scale, a clear, harmonious keyboard.
Like an organist you must know the right moment to
pull the stop of the oboe and unloose the thunder
of the bass. The pipes are not at fault: it is for
you to become a good musician. The face of Guil-
laumin suits you in the morning, and his ideas re-
juvenate you like fresh water. The eloquence of
Maurin is like a tonic in your hours of recreation.
But there are desolate evenings when what you un-
doubtedly need is the deep voice of Cauchois and his
THE POSSESSION OF OTHERS 47
In 'spite of the legendary ages, in spite of the re-
ligions, in spite of the poets, in spite of the mar-
velous traditions and, above all, in spite of our own
deepest aspirations, we must unquestionably abandon
the hope of an occult correspondence between souls.
It is a renunciation that it is hard to admit.
Every day events envelop us that seem to revive the
vanished perfume of mystery. Our reason is in no
haste to dissipate these clouds, to pierce these ap-
pearances : too well they soothe the irritating need of
not being quite solitary in the interior of ourselves,
of not being quite exiles in an inaccessible desert.
That nothing outside our senses can reveal to us
the proximity of a beloved person, the danger that
is approaching him, the death that is coming to
clasp him, is an extremity to which we find our-
selves reduced without ever submissively making up
our minds to it.
A few courageous men have halted before this
mountain and undertaken to lift it. Let us leave
them toiling in the shadow ; let us aid them, if not
by our effort, at least by our silence, and wait.
Let us wait, but let us not cease to go forth to
other battles. The unlnnwn never fails us. And
as for what we shall choose, there is so much in the
unknown to allure us, to enchant us ! If we give up
48 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
surmounting one obstacle another will always rise
before our feet. From obstacle to obstacle we shall
always be led to the foot of the same wall. We
shall consume our whole life in the struggle, know-
ing that the very interest of life lies in that struggle
and in those obstacles.
Now and then, detached by great efforts of the
pickaxe and the mattock, a fragment of the somber
mountain rolls at our feet. We stop it with rap-
ture, we examine it, we lift it with a sort of sadness,
in order to try its weight. There is no victory
that demands so great a price or seems to us more
desolate. It is as if we roused ourselves to a frenzy
to destroy the unknown in order that our success
might fill us with bitterness. Happily, the unknown
is always there.
I find myself alone with the person who of all the
world is the closest to me, the best loved, the most
perfectly chosen. The silence exhales a light per-
fume, a unique perfume that seems that of our kin-
dred souls. Oh! how we should like to believe that
the essences of our beings, delivered at last, might
communicate and unite with each other in the inter-
mediate space, in the impassable abyss!
At this very moment we surprise in one another's
eyes a common thought. Simultaneously, it escapes
our lips with a sort of rapturous precipitancy, as if
we were afraid of not arriving at exactly the same
THE POSSESSION OF OTHERS 49
moment at the rendez-vous, as if we wished, with
the harmonious precision of a well-rehearsed duet, to
confess together some matchless certainty.
We are happy, filled with astonishment. . . . But
I am not deceived.
I do not yet hold it, palpitating, for good and
all, between my fingers, the proof that has been so
long sought for. Not yet, this day, have I met
face to face either God or the immortal soul.
Only too well I know that some slight sound, some
rhythm outside us, the beating of a bird's wing, the
boring of an insect in the old wood of the furniture,
the sigh of the wind under the door, that it is one
of these things which has suddenly set our souls in
tune, awakened the echoes of affinity in the abysses
of our two separate selves. We have so many mem-
ories in common, we have so carefully matched
our tastes, we have so well unified our material
world and tried to blend even our futures together
that the very touch of the violinist's bow suffices to
make us vibrate in harmony.
But there must be the touch of the bow, there
must be the perfume, so faint that one experiences
its suggestions without being sure of its presence;
perhaps there is necessary only one of those obscure
phenomena which pass the limit of our senses in the
twilight where our inadequate organs can only
gropingly divine the world.
50 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
This is 'our meager certainty. Very well ! Let
us not reject it in our spite ; for it has its depth, its
beauty. We must make it our own, force it to en-
Where the exercise of the intelligence seems to re-
sult in the fatal imprisonment of the soul within
itself, love enables us to see how the soul can reach
beyond its own limits into time and space. In vain
does the intelligence prove to us that all this is only
an illusion. That illusion is beautiful; let us make
up our minds to give it shape. Through its very
longings to escape from its confines, the soul may
perhaps succeed in breaking them, and it is to love
without a doubt that it will owe the miracle of its
We possess only an imperfect means of com-
munion. So be it! Let us labor tenderly to per-
fect that means. It is thus that the creators of sci-
ence and industry labor, and we must admit that
their stubbornness has succeeded in making a very
great evil out of a small one. Let us not be less
ingenious ! This sinister progress ought to give us
encouragement: moral civilization deserves as much
care as the other sort.
With our brothers, our wives, our friends, let us
freely seek to have so many things in common, let
us strive so passionately to understand one another,
that our thoughts, ceaselessly pressing toward this
THE POSSESSION OF OTHERS 51
goal, may continually experience the sense of infin-
ity and eternity.
There lies our path; if it urges us to possess the
largest portion we can of the human world, let us
first begin by intimately possessing what we love.
This possession I am sure is the only real one.
They knew it very well, those desperate men who
have loved fiercely the mere bodies of women with-
out ever receiving the real gift that can be yielded
in a glance, from a distance, with the swiftness of
There are men who set out from their homes in
the morning in the pursuit of wealth. They walk
with their eyes on the pavement, they fling them-
selves furiously into all sorts of petty labors.
They dream of lost money, princely gifts, scan-
dalous inheritances, lotteries. They think of gold
as of an inaccessible woman whom they can strike
down and ravish in a corner. They return home in
the evening worn out, exasperated, famished, as
poor as ever. They have not even seen the face of
the man who sat next them in the subway. That face
itself was a fortune.
Do you seek out your friend because, on occasion,
he can lend you the sum you foresee you are going
to need, because he can speak to some cabinet of-
52 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
ficial on your behalf, because he is a jovial host?
If that is the case, you are a slave, you possess
nothing. Do you, on the contrary, love him for
that way of smiling he has that so delights you, for
the candor and tenderness his hesitating voice be-
trays, his gift of tears and his stormy repentances?
If this is so, you are very rich: that man is yours
and he is a treasure worth having.
Can you recall the use you made of your first five-
franc piece? Most assuredly not! But you will
never forget a certain expression which, in your
eyes, distorted or made more beautiful some well-
loved face when you were a little child. That has,
and always will have, a place among your treasures :
that day you really learned something of impor-
tance, and you have never ceased since to recall the
victory and turn it to account.
If you have little inclination to squander your
fortune, what is to prevent you from assembling it
under one title-deed? A single face, a single soul, is
yet an inestimable estate. One may believe one has
exhausted all one's resources, but one is always de-
ceived, for like the earth, the human landscape is
always perpetually laboring and bears fruit every
The peasant who possesses only an acre is full of
pride nevertheless, for he knows that his possession
goes down to the very center of the earth.
THE POSSESSION OF OTHERS 53
For many years I have watched the same face, like
the faithful horizon stretched across the aperture of
a window. It contrives, that face, a thousand
things, it expresses and reflects a thousand things,
I alone know its touching beauty, since I alone am
able to reap all its harvests, since I alone cannot,
without a glance, allow the tiniest flower of every
day to die.
It is not wholly within your power to be without
enemies ; it behooves you, indeed, not to lack adver-
saries. Above all, it behooves you to know your
adversaries. From that to conquering them is but
a short step. From that to loving them is no step
Do not dread an experience too much; consider
your adversary attentively and try to imagine his
motives, those that he declares as well as those that
he conceals, those that he invents as well as those of
which he is ignorant. Think long enough and with
enough intensity to understand these reasons, and
even to discover new ones of which your adversary
has not thought; this will not be difficult for you if
you have any knowledge of yourself.
Then make a strong effort to put yourself, in
spirit, in the place of him you are combatting. Do
not go so far as to detest yourself, but do not re-
54 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
fuse this opportunity of judging yourself severely.
For a test: perhaps you have entered upon this ex-
perience with your teeth and fists clenched; stop
when you find that you are smiling and that your
hands are relaxed.
One has no idea how much this exercise inclines
one to justice, how profitable it is and how destruc-
tive of hatred. Too much imagination would per-
haps lead you to neglect your own cause; stop in
time, therefore, unless you wish to become, as the
spectators may decide, either a fool or a hero.
For my part, I have no hesitation in counselling
such a practice: it teaches one to conquer, to con-
quer smilingly. It teaches one to know one's adver-
sary. And then, too, it is good as everything is
good that forestalls and destroys hatred.
There is only one single thing in the world that is,
perhaps, really hateful, stupidity. But even that
is disputable, and moreover it is always a pre-
Happy is the man who has no enemies. But, I
repeat, he who has no adversaries, he who has not
accepted those that life offers him, or has not been
able to procure any of his own will, is ignorant of a
great source of wealth.
There is but small merit in understanding those
whom we love; there is a great, a crowningly bitter
pleasure, in penetrating a soul that is hostile to us,
THE POSSESSION OF OTHERS 55
in making it our own by main force, in colonizing it.
Not to choose our friends, that is to be too self-
denying, too modest. Not to choose our adver-
saries, that is altogether too stupid; it is inexcus-
A voice whispers in my ear : " We do not choose
our vermin, we do not choose our mad dogs. . . ."
Alas, no! but that is quite another matter.
Every time I hear someone use the word " pro-
miscuity," I recall an experience I once had. An
experience, that is a great deal to say, it was such
a slight affair after all.
It was in the days when there still used to be in
Paris those omnibuses with upper stories. I was re-
turning home quite late, on one of those fresh, airy
nights when one suddenly draws in, through the
fetid breath of the streets, a gust that comes from
afar and seems unwilling to let itself be defiled, ob-
literated. I was dreaming all alone, quite to myself,
about things of no interest to anyone but myself,
but that happily filled the infinite space of the
Through the depths of this reverie I became
aware of a slight, muffled blow against my right
shoulder. This did not rouse me from my own
absorption. A second time the blow came, followed
56 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
by a soft, continuous contact. It gave me a dis-
By my side there was a young boy of sixteen or
seventeen, dressed like an apprentice. The uncer-
tain glimmer of the street-lamps lighted up his pale,
weary face. His eyes were closed and he seemed
overwhelmed with sleep. I noticed that every few
moments his head, swaying with the jolts of the
vehicle, would strike against my shoulder. He
would raise it up with an instinctive movement, only
to let it fall back the more heavily the next moment.
Once he let it lie there. At the time I was so lost in
my dreams that the animal in me alone rose to its
defense: I pushed the young lad gently back into his
place. It was trouble lost ; the next second he aban-
doned himself anew against my shoulder with a sort
of desperate ingenuousness. I pushed him back two
or three times, then I gave it up and tried, in spite
of this slight burden, to continue my glorious excur-
sion in the interior of my own self.
But I did not succeed. An extraordinary, un-
foreseen, unknown sensation was sweeping over me.
It was a penetrating animal warmth. It came from
that head propped against my shoulder, and also
from a certain frai], bent arm which I felt slowly
digging into my side. The little apprentice was
I bent down my face and felt his breath like that
THE POSSESSION OF OTHERS 57
of a child passing in little puffs over my cheek and
my chin. From that moment on, I ceased com-
pletely to think of my important personal affairs
and I had only one anxiety : to see to it that the boy
did not awaken.
I do not know how long this sleep lasted: I was
warm with a strange, delicate warmth; I had a sense
of well-being, I was absorbed, I was penetrating into
an unknown universe, as vast, as starry as my own.
I could not understand how this contact could have
offended me at first, even disgusted me. I had torn
off the prickly shell and was tasting, like a nourish-
ing kernel, that human presence and companionship.
I was happy and interested.
We reached a place where there were shouts and
lights. The little fellow sat up with a start, rubbed
his eyes and ran stumbling towards the stairway
and disappeared ; he had not even seen me.
He did not know what I owed him and that he
would never be forgotten.
One must not, at first sight, say that a man is un-
interesting and that his face is expressionless. One
might as well say that the water of a river is empty
when it swarms with vegetable and animal life.
In one's manner of listening to a man there may
be prejudice and suspicion, there must not be indif-
58 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
ference or indolence. The soul has, in its arsenal,
lenses, microscopes, and powerful sources of light
for exploring objects to their depths, through their
transparencies, into the innermost recesses of their
At the beginning of the war I lived for two years
with a comrade who was invariably silent and indo-
lent ; his handsome face remained always so gloomy,
his actions remained so devoid of purpose and sig-
nificance, that I despaired of ever making him my
prey; I was simply never touched with a desire to
get hold of him.
Then a day came when I heard him greet some
happening with a word, pronounced in such a chal-
lenging tone that I decided to undertake the expe-
dition. I spent days and days at it, with the pick-
axe, mattock, and little lantern of the miner. I
have thought of him ever since with stupefaction, as
of those subterranean, half-explored chasms where
one finds rivers, colonnades, domes, blind animals
and terrible shapes of stone.
The nature of the object should not discourage
one's interest. The viper is a dangerous and vindic-
tive creature. The naturalists who have been able
to study it have only been able to do so because they
have studied with passion, that is to say, with love.
So much to tell you that that sort of zoological
curiosity you may bring to the study of your neigh-
THE POSSESSION OF OTHERS 59
bor no more authorizes cruelty than it allows you
to dispense with affection.
Extreme attention resembles affection. Contem-
plation is pure love.
It is after my own taste that I mean to enjoy my
First, I wish to have part possession of my com-
panions. There is no question of my being the only
one to possess them, or of my limiting my empire to
one or two of them. What I plan is to undertake
each conquest separately. This word, we shall see,
does not signify seduction, but a knowledge that is
full of respect, a profound, lasting interest, an en-
thusiasm, a passionate contemplation.
Observe them, your comrades: say you have
twenty-three of them; you will find through them
twenty-three distinct representations of yourself,
and that in spite of yourself, through the mere
play of everyday life. One of them knows
chiefly your tireless patience ; another, who works
beside you all day, knows that you are pains-
taking and irritable; he is, however, ignorant
of what a third, the friend of your fireside, knows,
that you arc a careful and anxious father. There
are others for whom you are, above all, a soul torn
by religion or a mind familiar with everything that
60 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
concerns social questions, or a great lover of read-
ing. Others, finally, see in you only a good billiard-
player, or a crack shot, or a courteous companion.
You are, of course, all these things. The total-
ity of these various aspects is, indeed, you, pro-
vided that we add also many other qualities that no
one suspects. But each one of your comrades sees
an aspect of you that is different from what his
neighbor sees. For this reason, avoid confusion,
avoid mixing things. Be lavish of yourself in every
sense, but begin by being prudent, careful of your
resources and skilful in the art of grouping them.
One day you were having an affectionate conver-
sation with Maurin. You were delighted with one
another, delighted to be together, satisfied with your
fellowship, your mutual possession. You were not
talking of anything very private. But then Bleche
came up, Bleche with whom you have such profit-
able, such intimate talks, and all the charm of
Maurin's company disappeared without your being
able to compensate yourself with the usual pleasure
you take in the society of Bleche. This was be-
cause, in the presence of both, you could not give
each one what you are accustomed to give him, nor
could you ask from him what he gives only to you.
These combinations, like those of the chemists,
demand much care and judgment. Don't protest!
THE POSSESSION OF OTHERS 61
Don't exclaim that such notions are too subtle, too
complex: you do not receive all your friends pell-
mell. However much of an epicure you may be, you
still give more attention to the selection of your
guests than to the composition of the menu. Of
what importance is the most delicate fare in com-
parison with the delight the conversation of care-
fully chosen human beings gives us?
That is why, when you are sure of two persons for
whom you feel an interest that borders on passion,
you experience such a delicious anxiety at the mo-
ment of presenting them to one another, of bringing
them together in your presence.
You are like the maker of fireworks who is about
to mix changeable substances with explosive proper-
ties in his mortar. You weigh them carefully and
combine them in well-defined proportions. You
take time preparing each of the spiritual elements of
And when the union is accomplished, you seem to
be saying to each of them : " I have prepared a
magnificent gift for you. Come, now, and know
Your heart throbs, because eacli of them is not
only going to know the other but is going to learn to
know you through the eyes of the other.
Could there be a better reason for living?
62 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
However brief may be the intercourse we have
with a man, we always come away from it somewhat
modified : we find we are a little greater than we were
before, or a little less great, better or worse, exalted
I have learned this from having, in the course of
my life, approached many men, both famous and ob-
scure, who do not dream what I owe them or the
harm they have been able to do me.
We instinctively recognize and classify indi-
viduals according to this faculty they have, some
of drawing us out, others of crushing us. It is a
faculty they usually exert without knowing it, even
against their will: they are tonic or depressing just
as one is short or tall, just as one has black eyes or
green. But the comparison breaks down in this
respect, that it is always possible to modify the
reaction we produce on others.
In this matter we exhibit a special sensibility that
may be compared to the tropisms which push plants
up toward the light or make them struggle against
gravitation. We go toward some and flee from
others, regardless of our interests or our preju-
The man whose companionship we seek because it
stimulates us is not necessarily he who strives to give
THE POSSESSION OF OTHERS 63
us a good opinion of ourselves. Often he is taci-
turn, sometimes surly, occasionally ironical and cut-
ting. Nevertheless, there emanates from his whole
person something like approbation, a confession of
confidence. Even if he insists, harshly, noisily,
upon calling attention to our faults, he does not
make us despair of ourselves and our future. And
if he never speaks to us about ourselves we yet know,
by some imperceptible gesture, by some tone in his
voice, by a gleam in his eye, that he is interested in
Every time we leave him we like him better, we like
ourselves better, we like all humanity better, we look
at everything with a smile, we are as full of plans as
a tree in April.
The other sort of man, on the contrary, is forever
deluding himself. He pursues before our very eyes
an end which we see, with grief and bitterness, he
regularly fails to attain. Whatever he does, what-
ever he says, he always shows us that he is a
stranger to us, that he is superior and that we do
not interest him. Even in his manner of wishing to
give us his attention, he exhibits a certain difficulty
in seeing us at all. If he tries to seem talkative,
important, majestic, his natural gifts turn against
him ; his cordiality disgusts us, his bearing irritates
us, his self-importance makes us want to laugh. We
cannot forgive him anything, and especially the fact
64 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
that we always leave him with the same vague de-
pression, the same disgust of life, and the same dis-
trust of our own undertakings. What we are always
escapes him, and although what he is does not
escape us, we are discouraged by him all the same.
We must be the first of these two men, he who is,
amid all things, in spite of all things, a rich man, he
whom the poet of the Livre d' amour justly called
" a conqueror."
You must not violate your gifts, you must simply
study their possibilities. It is what we do with
trees -and animals in which we are able to instil vir-
tues they do not seem to possess at all naturally.
However humble your position in society may be,
however great your poverty, in the crude sense men
give to this word, you may none the less become rich
and successful without so much as leaving the room
where you are in conversation with your comrade,
your wife or your favorite adversary. Find your
study there. You have observed that when two men
meet they begin by sacrificing to the old custom of
enquiring briefly about one another's health and
affairs, after which, without waiting for the other's
reply, each one begins to speak of himself. This is
such an old usage that they do not even know they
are doing it. Each one speaks of himself for a few
THE POSSESSION OF OTHERS 65
moments, then allows the other to talk about hjm-
self for about the same length of time. When this
has gone on long enough they separate, and each
preserves for his partner a vague feeling of grati-
tude, not so much because he has listened as because
he has made a pretense of listening to matters that
were of no concern to him.
This fact suggests a great lesson. The majority
of men suffer from a sort of neglect, they suffer
from not being possessed by anyone, from offering
themselves in vain. Stretch out your hand and
seize them. Learn to say the word that will assure
you the mastery, the domination.
It is inconceivable that so many spirits, tormented
by the need for power, by the passion for authority,
should waste and sterilize themselves in order to
hoard money, win rank, obtain a title. They gain
nothing from it but a pride that withers them; they
clasp only the shadow of what they pursue.
Seek a little and you will soon find that they are
legion who ask nothing better than to cast them-
selves into your nets. Do not believe that they are
always the mediocre victims. It is not only the
wretched who wish to be understood and consoled.
There are many sceptics who await with anguish the
touch of a hand to deliver them from their scepti-
cism. There are many happy men, too, who can-
not bear to be alone with their happiness, for man
66 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
has even more need of help in joy than in sorrow.
It has often happened, while walking with a com-
rade, a stranger or an adversary, that I would find
him hard, defiant, rebellious at every touch.
Thereupon, I would set out openly, under his very
eye, to capture him. I would begin to speak to him
about himself. I would say to him : " The unique
things about you are . . ." And I would confide
to him everything I thought about him, being par-
ticularly careful to say nothing more about myself.
I would interest myself in him, not fictitiously -
that is a barren and a perilous game but with all
my heart, with all my intelligence. I would tell him
what I knew, what I already possessed of him, his
virtues and his faults. Confused or irritated, he
would come to my feet, he would appear as if be-
fore a bar to give thanks or to plead, to show his
claws or to purr. The things I had said to him
might be very severe; I still felt that he was grate-
ful to me for having cared about him, even in order
to attack him. No longer was he in any haste to
leave me. Often he would come back on the days
that followed and make me unexpected visits ;
though I could see that he was provoked, I knew
nevertheless that he had come to pay homage, to
attest that he was a faithful subject.
" The unique things about you are" . . . That
is a chance phrase. There are others, there are a
THE POSSESSION OF OTHERS 67
thousand of them. When you are ready, a grip of
the hand or some other human sign may take its
place. I remember the story of a certain prefect
who, having no worse enemy than a traitor in his
department, had the happy thought one day of ask-
ing him to have a drink and going away without
paying for it. This extraordinary proof of confi-
dence attached the man to him forever.
Not that all your victims will be so tremblingly
easy. There are proud souls who set a high price
on their conquest, fantastic and sick souls whom one
has to seize suddenly and overthrow almost before
they are aware of it.
You must set the time and choose the hour of the
Do not accost the business man in the roar of the
Exchange; attempt the field rather at the hour
when, wearied, he is counting over and reckoning
his disillusionmcnts. Do not seize the man of action
on the battlefield, but in the moment of leisure when
he does not know what to do with his solitude.
What marvelous opportunities must the shy Las
Casas have glimpsed at Saint Helena, even though
he was pursuing other aims !
I once saw a simple soul publicly congratulate a
master surgeon whose skill had for long years placed
him above all felicitations. And the celebrated man
blushed, bowed, gave in.
68 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
A successful lawyer said to me one day : " Each
one of my clients imagines that I think only of him,
that I occupy myself exclusively with him."
Remember, too, that certain women never capitu-
late twice: they never forgive themselves for having
yielded completely even for a moment. The same
thing is true with others who are offended with you
because you have " taken " them by force. Do not
regret this sacrifice too much: it leaves a beautiful
jewel in your casket.
Truly the whole vast race of men belongs to you.
Take and eat, you cannot find more noble food.
See, there is the world you must conquer. It is
not that for whose possession proud peoples are
driven to declare war; it is indeed quite another
world than that which Satan showed Jesus from the
summit of the mountain.
ON DISCOVERING THE WORLD
THE world contains not one single object that
might not be a source of happiness. Sorrow
springs from this, that man outdoes himself in mis-
using everything. He turns against his own body
or his own spirit all sorts of things that seem well
made for his joy.
Every being contains an unbelievable store of
happiness, and this one virtue reveals the angle
from which he ought to be judged.
Your true business man makes a practice of
weighing everything in terms of gold: a human be-
ing, a field of wheat, a beam, a precious stone. His
tables of value are false, but the principle of valua-
tion remains none the less efficacious, fundamental.
The mistake of these persons is in testing everything
by a single measure, in reducing everything to this
gold which enables them to seek their chosen pleasure.
If it is drink, or woman, they transmute an orchard
into wine or into women, losing terribly by the ex-
70 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
change. They thus produce a sort of analogy to
what the physicists call the degradation of energy:
little by little, the traffickers degrade their pleas-
ures until they obtain those they prefer. But hap-
piness is higher than this : it cannot be degraded,
bought, transmuted. It is a pure relationship be-
tween the soul and the world. It will never be the
mere object of a transaction. Many are the men
who have fastened their hope, their future upon the
acquisition of some material good only to experi-
ence after years of effort and privation a burning
disillusion. That is because happiness is too proud
and free a thing to obey the commands of merchants.
It follows laws of its own that seem like inspirations,
it does not come at the bidding of business men.
The castle we have coveted so long may open at
the appointed hour; joy will not take up its abode
there unless we have deserved it.
It must be repeated again : the principle of evalua-
tion is at the base of our moral life. But each thing
should be valued in itself and for itself.
A tuft of violets is worth a great deal for its per-
fume and its beauty, it can bring joy or consolation
to a great many hearts. But it has only the slightest
commercial value; estimated in terms of building
lumber or freestone it signifies nothing, or virtually
That so many men should cut and sell wood, shape
ON DISCOVERING THE WORLD 71
and barter the stone of which our houses are built,
go gathering violets through the May thickets to
sell them to townsfolk, is undoubtedly right and nec-
essary. The real question is quite a different one:
we must first possess for their own sakes all the
blessings that are offered us, and not obstinately
transform them, without an important reason, be-
yond our strict needs, at the risk of forever losing
our understanding and our true possession of them.
It is almost a truism that men who are obliged
by their profession to handle, store or sell substances
famous for their power of giving pleasure, perfumes,
fruits, silks, end by losing all appreciation of them
and even by contracting a disgust and contempt for
them. Cooks have no appetite. Let us not be
cooks, then, in the presence of this vast world ; let
us know how to preserve or restore to eacli object
its original savor and significance.
I say " restore " intentionally, for the world seems
to be more and more turning from its true sense, that
is to say, its human sense, the only one for us.
A stone is a beautiful thing, beautiful from all
points of view; its grain, its color, its brilliancy* its
hardness are all so many virtues that exercise and
satisfy our senses, excite our reflections. We have
a thousand noble uses, speculative or practical, to
which we can put such an object. We shall be the
kings of the universe if we assert boldly that we
72 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
find in these uses and in our joy the very destiny of
I remember seeing hills that had been disem-
boweled by a bombardment and were sown with long
splinters of twisted iron; the base of a monstrous
shell appeared before me, one day, under these con-
ditions, and it seemed to me truly inhuman, this
product of the work of men: the noble metal, with
which so many good and beautiful things can be
made, took on a hateful appearance. Man had
achieved the mournful miracle of denaturing nature,
rendering it ignoble and criminal.
Truly, we are equally guilty every time we turn
an object aside from its mission, which is altogether
one of happiness. We are guilty again every time
we fail to extract, for others and for ourselves, all
the happiness an object holds in store and only asks
to be allowed to yield.
It is because every fragment of the earth is a
source of happiness that men ceaselessly dream of
winning that source for their own profit.
They do not wish to have all humanity refresh
itself, plunge its feverish face and lips in the cool
Once the springs were the delight and the wealth
of whole peoples ; they were conducted magnificently
ON DISCOVERING THE WORLD 73
along majestically proportioned aqueducts; their
liquid opulence, crossing valleys and mountains, en-
tered the cities with a great outburst of architec-
tural joy; it shone and sparkled in the sunlight from
a thousand embellished apertures before it went to
bathe and nourish the people.
The statues of the gods watched over this treas-
Today, the most beautiful springs are guarded
by railings ; one goes to a wicket and pays in order
to drink there.
In the same way, all the springs of joy seem to
have been sequestered for the profit of a few people.
This is not always for the sake of gain. In most
cases it is simply for exclusiveness. The man who
owns something capable of giving joy naively
imagines that he will be happier if he is the only
one to drink from this inexhaustible breast. He be-
comes infatuated with it and thinks of nothing but
how to shut up his treasure. He puts up a wall and
provides it with fragments of sharp glass, so that
the wall may show its teeth, so that it may be not
only defensive but, in some sense, offensive. At
times, yawning with ennui in the very midst of his
material prosperity, he makes an opening in the wall,
only to correct thia imprudence with a ditch; and
from behind this he seems to say, " Now see how
rich I am; look and proclaim it in a loud voice, you
74 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
who pass by, for I am beginning not to be so sure
of it myself."
To shut up a picture, a beautiful tree, a sumptuous
tapestry for one's own exclusive benefit is, after all,
only a trifling folly ; but there are some who under-
take to capture a river, a mountain, a horizon, the
A few years ago, I visited the shore of the Mediter-
ranean, between Cannes and Menton. I was struck
by a strange thing: the road that follows the edge
of the sea, at the foot of the hills, through a thousand
natural beauties, continually loses sight of the waves ;
it seems as if pushed back, held aside.
People have appropriated the horizon ; they have
driven their fortune like a wedge between the divine
sea and the road of the common folk. They wish to
be the only ones to possess the ocean, dawn, the gold
and sapphire of moon, the tempests and the
thunders of the open sea.
Do not be alarmed, mistaken brothers, do not
tremble; we shall not throw down your walls. Live
in peace in your sumptuous prison, our portion re-
mains so beautiful and so great that we shall never
Close your gates, you will not shut in the perfume
of your shrubbery, nor all the wind, nor all the sky.
You will not imprison the fragrant odor of your
flower-beds. We shall breathe them, as we pass, lov-
ON DISCOVERING THE WORLD 75
ingly, and continue on our way. We shall go on
still further, for we have many things to acquaint
ourselves with, we divine so many, many of them
that a whole life is short in the light of such a des-
tiny. But if it pleases you to join our vagabond
company .you will discover, perhaps, the other side of
your own walls, which are hung with flax-weed and
wild geranium. The road that skirts them outside
leads to joy also.
And besides, one does not find these ingenuous
walls everywhere. The greed of men has not yet
subjected all the beauty of things. You have
snatched up in your fingers a fleeting draught of
water: the ocean does not seem to be aware of it.
You must understand that we really possess noth-
ing by ourselves. Veil, if you wish, the faces of
your women and visit every day the gold in the
depths of your vaults. * Exclusiveness yields you no
wealth save that which is dead and unproductive.
But he is truly rich for whom life is a perpetual
Discovery ! It seems as if this word were one of a
cluster of magic keys, one of those keys that make all
doors open before our feet. We know that to pos-
sess is to understand, to comprehend. That, in a
supreme sense, is what discovery means.
76 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
To understand the world can well be compared
to the peaceful, enduring wealth of the great land-
owner; to make discoveries is, in addition to this,
to come into sudden, overflowing riches, to have one
of those sudden strokes of fortune which double a
man's capital by a windfall that seems like an in-
The life of a child who grows up unconstrainedly
is a chain of discoveries, an enriching of each mo-
ment, a succession of dazzling surprises.
I cannot go on without thinking of the beautiful
letter I received today about my little boy; it said:
" Your son knows how to find extraordinary riches,
inexhaustible treasures, even in the barrenest fields,
and when I set him on the grass, I cannot guess the
things he is going to bring out of it. He has an
admirable appreciation of the different kinds of soil ;
if he finds sand he rolls in it, buries himself in it,
grabs up handfuls and flings them delightedly over
his hair. Yesterday he discovered a molehole, and
you cannot imagine all the pleasure he took in it.
He also knows the joys of a slope which one can
descend on one's feet, or head over heels, or by roll-
ing, and which is also splendid for somersaults.
Every rise of ground interests him, and I wish you
could see him pushing his cart up them. There is a
little ditch where on the edge he likes to lie with his
feet at the bottom and his body pressed tight against
ON DISCOVERING THE WORLD 77
the slope. He played interminably, the other day,
on top of a big stone; he kept stroking it, he had
truly found a new pleasure there. And as for me,
I find my wealth in watching him discover all these
It is thus a child of fifteen months gives man les-
sons in appreciation.
Unfortunately, most systems of education do their
best to substitute hackneyed phrases for the sense of
discovery. A series of conventions are imposed on
the child ; he ceases to discover and experience the
objects in the world in pinning them down with dry,
formal labels by the help of which he can recognize
them. He reduces his moral life little by little to
the dull routine of classifying pins and pegs, and in
this fashion begins the journey to maturity.
Discover ! You must discover in order to be rich !
You must not be satisfied to accept the night good-
humorcdly, to go to sleep after a day empty of all
discovery. There are no small victories, no neg-
ligible discoveries: if you bring back from your
day's journey the memory of the white cloud of
pollen the ripe plantain lets fall, in May, at the
stroke of your switch, it may be little, but your day
is not lost. If you have only encountered on the
road the tiny urn of jade which the moss delightedly
balances at the end of its frail stem, it may seem
little, but be patient ! Tomorrow will perhaps be
78 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
more fruitful. If for the first time you have seen a
swarm of bees go by in search of a hive, or heard the
snapping pods of the broom scattering its seeds in
the heat, you have nothing to complain of, and life
ought to seem beautiful to you. If, on that same
day, you have also enriched your collection of hu-
manity with a beautiful or an interesting face, con-
fess that you will go to sleep upon a treasure.
There will be days when you will be like a peaceful
sovereign seated under a tree: the whole world will
come to render homage to you and bring you tribute.
Those will be your days of contemplation.
There will be days when you will have to take your
staff and wallet and go and seek your living along
the highways. On these days you must be contented
with what you gain from observing, from hunting;
have no fear : it will be beautiful.
It is sweet to receive ; it is thrilling to take. You
must, by turns, charm and compel the universe.
When you have gazed long at the tawny rock, with
its lichens, its velvety mosses, it is most amusing to
lift it up: then you will discover its weight and the
little nest of orange-bellied salamanders that live
there in the cool.
You have only to lie among the hairy mints and
the horse-tails to admire the religious dance of the
ON DISCOVERING THE WORLD 79
dragon-fly going to lay its eggs in the brook, or to
hear in early June the clamorous orgy of the tree-
toads, drunk with love; and it is very pleasant, too,
to dip one's hands in the water, to stir the gravel at
the bottom, whence bubble up a thousand tiny, agile
existences, or to pick the fleshy stalk of the water-lily
that lifts its tall head out of the depths.
There are people who have passed a plant a thou-
sand times without ever thinking of picking one of its
leaves and rubbing it between their fingers. Do this
always and you will discover hundreds of new per-
fumes. Each of these perfumes may seem quite in-
significant, and yet when you have breathed it once,
you wish to breathe it again ; you think of it often,
and something has been added to you.
It is an unending game and it resembles love, this
possession of a world that now yields itself, now
conceals itself. It is a serious, a divine game.
Marcus Aurelius, whose philosophy cannot be
called futile, does not hesitate, amid many austere
counsels, to urge his friends to the contemplation
of those natural spectacles that are always so rich
in meaning and suggestion : " Everything that comes
forth from the works of nature," he writes, " has its
grace and beauty. The face wrinkles in middle age,
the very ripe olive is almost decomposed, but the
fruit has, for all that, a unique beauty. The bend-
ing of the corn toward the earth, the bushy brows
80 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
of the lion, the foam that drips from the mouth of
the wild boar and many other things, considered
by themselves, are far from being beautiful ; never-
theless, since they are accessory to the works of
nature, they embellish them and add a certain charm.
Thus a man who has a sensitive soul, and who is ca-
pable of deep reflection, will see, in whatever exists
in the world, hardly anything that is not pleasant in
his eyes, since it is related, in some way, to the
totality of things."
This philosopher is right as the poets are right.
As our days permit us, let us reflect and observe, let
us never cease to see in each fragment of the great
whole a pure source of happiness. Like children
drawn into a marvelous dance, let us not relax our
hold upon the hand that sustains us and directs us.
Chalifour was a locksmith. I knew him in my
childhood. You would have said that he was just a
simple country laborer. Why has he left the memory
of a rich and powerful man? His image will always
be for me that of the " master of metals."
He worked in a mean, encumbered room, full of the
pungent, acrid odor of the forge, which seemed to
me a sort of annex to those other underground
vaults that used to be peopled by the earth-spirits.
How I loved to see him, with his little apron of
ON DISCOVERING THE WORLD 81
blackened leather ! He would seize a bar of iron and
this iron at once became his. He had his own way
of handling the object of his labor that was full of
love and authority. His gnarled hands touched
everything with a mixture of respect and daring; I
used to admire them as if they were the somber
workmen of some sovereign power.
It seemed as if some pact had been made between
Chalifour and the hard metal, which gave the man
complete mastery over the material. One might
have thought that solemn vows had been exchanged.
I see him again with his pensive air working the
panting bellows and watching the metal whose in-
candescence was almost transparent. I see him at
the anvil : the hammer, handled forcefully, delicately,
obeying like a subject demon. I see him before the
drill, starting the great wheel, following the meas-
urged exigencies of a ceremonial rite. Especially I
see him before the smoky window with its pale flood
of light, surveying, with that fine smile under his
white beard, the conquered piece of metal, the crea-
ture of his will, which he had charged with des-
O ancient laborer, great, simple man, how rich and
enviable you were, you who aspired to just one thing:
to do wi 11 wli.it you were doinp-, to possess intimately
the object of your toil! No one better than you
has understood the ponderous, obedient iron, no one
82 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
than you has worked it with greater love and con-
Somewhere there exists, I believe, an unhappy man
eaten up with nerves and stomach-disorder. He
lives crouched up against his telephone, and sends
his orders to all the stock exchanges of the world.
People call him the " iron king," for some reason that
has to do with finance. I don't believe he has ever
touched or weighed a morsel of real iron. Let us
smile, Chalifour! Let us smile, my master!
I should like to tell you about Bernier, too. They
say he is a very poor man because his coat is all
shiny from wear and his shoes have the weary,
wretched look of things that have never been young,
because the sweat of many summers has soaked and
stained the ribbon of his hat and his baggy trousers
give him the air of always kneeling.
Bernier has a poor little drooping moustache with
nothing glorious about it. You know only too well
that he earns a hundred and twenty francs a month
in some government bureau and that people say of
him, " He 's a poor devil with a miserable job."
As for me, I know that Bernier is rich, and I have
seen him smile in the hour of his wealth, for the
true wealth has its times of slumber and its awaken-
ings. Bernier possesses something which is quite
ON DISCOVERING THE WORLD 83
strange and almost inexpressible; it is a space, a
white space, vast and virgin, and it is his power to
be able to trace there certain harmonious lines which
he alone knows how to trace in the right way.
Why have you never seen, why have you never been
able to see Bernier at the moment when he begins his
work, when the whole sickly light of the office seems
concentrated on the beautiful white page? His face
is serene, smiling, assured. He half closes his eyes
and draws back his head ; he holds, adroitly and
elegantly, a certain chosen pen, flexible, with a good
point, a pen that belongs to him alone, which he has
prepared for himself and which he would throw
away if some blundering fool happened to touch it.
And then he begins !
His kingdom is ranged all about him: ink pure
from all dust, a brightly lined ruler, a collection of
pens with all sorts of points. He begins, and the
black line obeys him, springs up, curves in, stops,
bounds forward or falls back, prances, yields. Look
at Bernier's face: is it really the face of that poor
wretch you have just described to me? No! No!
It is the face of a masterful man, calm, sure of him-
self and his wealth, who is doing something that
no one can do as well as he : across a snowy, limitless
desert he directs, as if in a dream, a black line that
advances, advances, now slowly, now dizzily, like
84 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
You are willing to pay ten francs to see an acrobat
or a trained dog. Perhaps you have never watched
a spider about to prepare its web. In that case, do
not miss the spectacle at the very next opportunity.
When you have had a good glimpse of the extraor-
dinary creature revolving about the center of the
work and fastening, with its hind leg, so quickly
and accurately, the thread that it unwinds in just
the right quantity, you will be so delighted that you
will want to show the marvel to all those you love.
It is strange what a contempt men have for the
joys that are offered them freely. And yet this does
not argue a shallowness in our natures : there is a cer-
tain beauty in our prizing an object just because
it has cost us some trouble. You must not imagine,
however, that the marvels of nature come for noth-
ing: they cost patience, time and attention.
An unhealthy curiosity and the taste for anom-
alies incline us to take pleasure in seeing a creature
perform an action for which its own organism seems
unsuited. It palls very quickly. For a long time
now, for example, the flight of aviators has ceased
to excite our interest : we know all about that unmys-
terious machine ; its very sound and its presence in
the sky defile the silence and the space whose vir-
ginity was a refuge for us. On the other hand, I
ON DISCOVERING THE WORLD 85
assure you I never cease to be fascinated by the
mysterious maneuvers of a swarm of gnats, their
interweaving curves, the spherical movement which,
from instant to instant, transports the whole group
of insects and seems the result of some secret pass-
word, and so many other subtle and profound mys-
teries that remain, for the imagination, full of al-
lurement, full, one might say, of resources.
And do you think there is nothing disturbing in
the beauty of the imperious flight of the great
dragon-fly, in its sudden, meditative pauses, in its
peremptory starts that lash the air like a supple,
To whatever school of philosophy they belong, the
great observers of natural phenomena, the Darwins,
Lamarcks, Fabres, give us a magnificent lesson in
love. But why do we nourish ourselves only on their
harvests instead of providing our own? Why do
we buy and read their books without drawing any
real profit from them, without ever taking the trouble
to look down at our own feet, without ever going to
live, with the creatures of the sand and the grass,
their minute, thrilling existence, in which everything
would be for us full of novelty, discovery, sugges-
VI 1 1
The world is so generous and I feel my heart so
full, so overflowing, that I do not even dream of
arranging in order all these things I have to say to
you. I should wish first of all to see your brow
relax, to hear you say that you are less dispirited
and that you refuse to be bored.
I should like to know all of you, and each in
particular, to take you by the arm and walk with
you through one of the streets of your town, or
along the highroad if you live in the country. You
would tell me of your cares and we should search
together and see if there is indeed nothing in the uni-
verse for which you are especially destined, if there
does not indeed exist, all ready for your wound,
the precise balm that is necessary to anoint and
I came out this morning from my shelter of planks.
The barren, chalky soil that surrounds it is surely
the most sterile in all Champagne, but it had rained
and the storm had brought up out of this miserable
soil, which is almost without vegetation, all sorts of
kindly odors. They were worth more than all the
perfumes of Florida, for they were the humble gift
At the end of next February I could show you,
some morning, if the sun were out, the color of the
birches against the blue of the winter sky. All the
slender branches will seem ablaze with purple fire,
and the sky, through this delicate flame, will survey
you with an exquisite tenderness. You must wait,
ON DISCOVERING THE WORLD 87
you must drink it in deeply, and not go on your way
before you have understood it. From it you will
be able to store up enough happiness to last you
till another winter comes and gives birth once more
to this prodigy of light. ^
Last year, during the hard summer months on the
Aisne, I used to escape each day, for a second,
toward the end of the afternoon, from the overheated
tent where we carried on the bloody work of the
ambulance. One of my comrades was in the habit
of eating an apple at this hour. I used to ask him
to be good enough to lend it to me for a moment.
I loved to breathe its delicate, penetrating perfume
which, every day, changed with the fruit. That was
indeed a rare, a beautiful moment amid the fatigues
of that concert of suffering and death.
I requisitioned this imponderable part of another's
wealth; then I returned the apple to my comrade. I
could have wished that you had all been with me to
taste that poignant little joy.
When peace comes again, if you wish to see me
in May, I will take you out under the great sycamore
that is turning green at the bottom of the meadow.
And there as you listen to the flying, the humming,
the loving and the living of the millions of creatures
that people its cool foliage, we shall set out together
on a journey so rare that you will leave your heaviest
sorrows along the way.
88 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
Some years ago, a magazine undertook to ask a
number of writers in what chosen spot they would
like to pass a few beautiful hours. Emile Ver-
" In a certain corner of the harbor of Hamburg."
Verhaeren is among those who have revealed to us
the mournful grandeur of city views, of factory
towns, those places that seem accursed and from
which one might think that happiness was forever
The aspirations of our souls are so plentiful, so
tenacious, so fertile that we find something to con-
sole us, satisfy us, exalt us in those very spots where
suffering rules tyrannically, where the valley of
Gehenna is most precipitous.
I visited the docks of Liverpool with a sort of
horror. There were tall brick buildings, their roofs
lost in the smoke, windows covered with grime, their
interiors nothing but monstrous heaps of cotton
bales. Men were climbing about there like flies.
Everything smelt of fog and mould. Narrow pave-
ments, slimy with rain, ran along by the dry-docks
where the steamers, like immense corpses, were being
assailed by the frantic crowd. The workers toiled
amid a bombardment of hammers, a whirl of sparks.
ON DISCOVERING THE WORLD 89
The drills snarled like whipped cats. A hideous
light, smothered by the smoke and the mist of the
Mersey, drowned everything in its fetid flood.
And yet, since then, I have often dreamed of that
terrible spot and felt the need of living there.
For two years I attended the wounded of the First
Army Corps, all of them men from the north,
stained by the coal on face and chest, men from the
factories or the mines. I walked with them through
the smiling landscapes of the Aisne, the Vesle, the
Marne, when those lovely valleys had not yet been
too much disfigured by the war. Certainly they all
enjoyed the slopes with their gracious groves of
trees, the beautiful cultivated fields, draped like
many-colored shawls over the shoulders of the little
hills, but they all thought most, with love and regret,
of cylinders, mine shafts, machines, and a smoky
I can understand it: one's native soil, one's own
habitude, the familiar human landscape, moulded
upon the other and transfiguring it. Above every-
thing we have to recogni/e that the soul is sensitive
to many infinitely varied and often contradictory
things. Grace of lines, rustic charm are qualities
that attach us to a country ; fierce and desolate
grandeur is another such, and this indeed has almost
the strongest nostalgic power of all.
90 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
When beauty seems to have abandoned the world,
we must realize that it has first deserted our own
Between your five senses, open like the dazzling
portholes on the side of a ship, do you really believe
there is nothing, nothing but the void, the night, the
I do not know, I do not know. ... I cannot be-
lieve. . . .
The sound rises, rises like the skylark, and the
ear rises with it. And then comes a moment when
the sound still rises and the hearing stops, like those
birds that do not frequent the loftiest altitudes.
Tell me, are they lost truly and forever, those
sounds that hold sway at the gates of your soul,
those sounds to which your senses are not equal?
Wait ! Hope ! Some day perhaps we shall know.
You will say to me : " The light is so beautiful, so
beautiful ! It adds luster to so many things that are
dear to me. Have I any need to dream of other
rays than these? My eyes have already so much
to do that they are overcome by their delight. The
beauty of sound and silence ceaselessly intoxicates
True! Your soul has active purveyors. They
do not leave it idle. They come and heap at its
ON DISCOVERING THE WORLD 91
feet riches that demand its enthusiasm and its so-
But often there is in your soul something your
senses have not brought there, an exquisite joy, an
inexpressible sadness. Do not forget that you live
bathed in a multitude of rays to only some of which
you are sensible. The others are perhaps not quite
strange to you. What is passing, in contraband,
across the frontiers of your being? Do not obsti-
nately try to bring it under control. Submit, ex-
perience, be merely attentive and respectful to
everything. Some day we shall perhaps know more
things than we are able to divine now.
One of the greatest delights of the religious faith
is to abandon ourselves to gratitude, to be able to
thank, from an overflowing heart, the moral being .
to whom we feel indebted for our wealth.
Why then, since I have long lost this faith, do I
still feel each day, and several times a day, the great
need of singing the canticle of Francis of Assisi, the
lovely canticle in which he says :
Praise be unto Thee, O Lord, and unto all Thy creatures,
especially our gracious brother the sun, who gives us the
day and through whom Thou showest us Thy light. He
is beautiful and radiant with a great splendor. He is the
.symbol of Thee, Most High.
Praise be unto Thee, O Lord, for our sister the moon and
92 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
the stars, fashioned by Thee in the sky, clear, precious, and
Praise be unto Thee, O Lord, for our mother the wind,
and for the air and the clouds, for the pure sky, and for
all the time during which Thou givest to thy creatures life
Praise be unto Thee, O Lord, for our sister the water,
who is so useful, precious and clean.
Praise be unto Thee, O Lord, for our brother the fire,
through whom Thou illuminest the night. He is lovely and
gay, courageous and strong.
Praise unto Thee, O Lord, for our mother the earth, who
sustains us and nourishes us, and brings forth divers fruits
and flowers of a thousand colors and the grass.
A poet has transposed these divine strophes into
the harmony of French verse and sings thus :
I shall praise you, Lord, for having made so lovely and so
This world where you wish us to await our life.
Now, I know very well that in this world I am
not awaiting life, I am living. I know very well that
it is here T must live and lose no time about it. My
gratitude is all the more pressing, all the more in-
What if it does rise to an empty heaven, that in-
finite gratitude !
It will not be lost. And is that heaven ever
empty to which we breathe out so many dreams,
where there trembles so much beauty !
The sweetest of human voices has said : " Lay up
for yourselves in heaven the treasures that do not
perish." Perhaps we shall be pardoned if we dare
ON DISCOVERING THE WORLD 93
to murmur: "Lay up for yourselves, in this world,
the treasures that do not perish."
They will not perish, these treasures, O my son,
and all you whom I love, they will not perish if you
thirst to discover them only that you may share them
with others, that you may bequeath them to a de-
They will not perish if they find their being, their
supreme reason, in that region of the soul where
believers have raised up the tabernacle of a God.
THE LYRICS OF LIFE
DURING the cruellest hours, when the war
about me has been heaping agony upon agony,
when I have been able to find nothing, nothing to
which I could any longer attach my confidence and
my need of hope, I have often been surprised to find,
running through my head, one of those airs that I
know so well, those airs that I love and that escort
my soul, like watchful and radiant personages,
through the chaos of the days. And I would think
bitterly : " Just fifteen quite simple notes ! but they
carry a meaning so beautiful, so profound, so com-
manding that they would suffice, I am certain, to
resolve all conflicts, to discourage all hatreds, if men
knew them well enough to sing them all together with
the same attentive tenderness."
It may be that the philosophy which absorbs you
is one that leaves no room for indulgence. Perhaps
you feel yourself full of bitterness for your fellows,
perhaps you have made up your mind not to see in
THE LYRICS OF LIFE 95
the activity of the living any but motives of greed
and covetousness. Do not laugh! Do not be in
too great haste to prove yourself right ! Above
everything, do not rejoice in being right in so dis-
mal a fashion.
I say it again, if certain pages of Beethoven were
better known to those who suffer and slaughter one
another they would succeed in disarming many a
resentment, they would restore to many a tense face
a soft, ineffable smile.
If you do not believe this, you are not accustomed
to living among simple people, you have never
watched an irrepressible class of little children whom
their master dominates and calms by making them
sing, you have never heard a multitude of people
intoning a hymn in some cathedral, you have never
seen a great flood of workingmen, in some foul slum,
break into the rhythm of a revolutionary song, per-
haps you -have never even seen a poor man weeping
because a violin had just recalled to him his youth
and the obscure thoughts he believed he had never
in all his life confessed to anyone.
Think of all these things and then form some no-
tion of what it is the thoughts of the great masters
can do with the soul. Why, why is it not better
known, this thing which is, indeed, knowledge and
revelation itself? Why does it not reign over the
empires, this which is sovereignty, grandeur,
96 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
majesty? Why is it not more ardently invoked in
the hour of crisis, this that teaches, equally well,
fruitful doubt and serene resolution?
True, he who says ecstatically, " The world is
governed by love, goodness, generous passions," sur-
renders himself to a childish error. But he who
cries, " The whole world is enslaved by egoism, vio-
lence and base passions," speaks foolishly.
As we look about us, we might perhaps imagine
that from one or the other of these two moral at-
titudes there is no escape. Must we believe that
the spirit of system has such an irresistible hold
over everyone who sets about the business of living?
The world! The world! It is much more beau-
tiful and complex than that. It always upsets our
prearrangements, and that is why we cherish it so
dearly. But we also love to foresee things, and sys-
tem seems to arrange them so that we can.
What does it signify in a world that is capable of
everything? Amid the evil and the mediocre there
will always shine forth consolingly something noble,
something wondrous. Is it not shameful to predict
the basest things so glibly only to close our eyes the
more obstinately before the beauty that is unknown
I assure you, in spite of all, that two lines of
THE LYRICS OF LIFE 97
music can turn a multitude back and agitate the
deepest springs of its behavior. If the miracle does
not result from harmonious sounds, it will be borne,
perhaps, of ten warm, rhythmical words, or the sight
of a statue or the evocation of an image.
The worship of immediate realities leads us to
those easy victories that intoxicate the coarse spirits.
At times it results in irreparable disasters, for it in-
clines us to misprize those secret and delicate things
that pave the way for the soul's most daring flights
Some other time I shall tell the story of the gen-
eral who, in order to allay the grievances of his
mutinous troops, offered them a cask of wine and,
thanks to this blunder, suffered a defeat.
People who reason in a wholesale fashion get along
successfully from day to day till the hour when a
tiny error destroys their success forever.
If the thoughts of great men no longer cause mir-
acles it is because they are too little understood,
or are misunderstood, or are purposely distorted.
You are mistaken if you think they are powerless
because they are beautiful.
The war, which has crushed such great masses of
men, has brought us face to face with this melan-
choly evidence, it has enabled us thoroughly to ex-
98 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
amine many individuals and to put many experi-
ences to the proof. It has permitted us to measure
the whole humiliation of moral civilization before that
other, the scientific and industrial civilization which
we might still better call practical civilization.
Gifted, serious, good men have said to me, " First
of all one has to live. You can see, in the midst of
this hurricane, what would become of a people weak-
ened by idealism and given over to the works of the
spirit. My son will study chemistry. The coming
century will be a hard one, my son will perhaps never
have the time to read Emerson or acquaint himself
with the works of Bach ! Too bad ! But first of all
one has to live."
Does it not seem as if error had a dazzling power
to seduce us and overwhelm us? Men are always
hoping to conquer it by yielding to its demands. No
one has the courage to turn his own steps away from
its shifting shore. No one, for example, says to me :
" The moral culture of the world is in peril. Me-
chanical progress monopolizes and swallows up all
human energy. The generous soul of the best men
is forgotten, in exile. Let us, with a common voice,
with all our strength, summon it to come back to us,
or let us go and die in exile with it, in an exile that
is noble and pure."
THE LYRICS OP LIFE 99
I shall speak to you again of all these things ; we
must talk a great deal more about the future if we
wish to enter it without blindness, shame, and horror.
For the moment, glance at the people who sur-
round us, the restless people we see on all sides.
There are some of them who know what is beautiful.
They rejoice in it, almost in secrecy, and despise
those who do not share their faith. As for the oth-
ers, they do not know it, and that is all one can say.
They are, according to their several characters, ig-
norant and sceptical, or just simply ignorant. They
see how works of art and the spirit miraculously sur-
vive the decadence and the prosperity of empires:
that astonishes them without convincing them. Many
divine that this has something to do with a secret
and sacred power, but they do not dare and they do
not know how to avail themselves of it. They catch
glimpses of the feast of the heroes and they cannot
reali/e that their place is marked and waiting for
Among my everyday companions are many edu-
cated men upon whom the universities have lavished
their care and their degrees. Many of them are
interested neither in their duties, nor in their com-
rades, nor, one would say, in their own thoughts.
They pl'*y cards, read the papers, think about
100 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
women and complain of ennui, for the war has en-
throned boredom. And yet these souls, I assure you,
are of good material and full of energy and re-
What is to be done? How is one to introduce
them to a larger, fuller life? How can one dare to
do that without presumption, and also without fear
of pomposity? How do it with affection, without
lecturing them, without preaching to them? How
be useful and friendly with simplicity? They have
suffered, they have experience and obstinate views of
their own. They do not believe that they have been
dispossessed of anything. You have to listen very
attentively to hear their soul groaning in the depths.
I spoke to one of them about music. He replied
with an indifference in which there was a touch of
discouragement ; " For my part, I don't understand
music. It can't interest me." We went on talking
and I discovered that he was strangely sensitive to
architectual matters, that he had a very subtle un-
derstanding and lacked nothing but enlightenment,
knowledge, to have applied himself to it with pas-
It is usually that way. The field of moral ac-
tivity is so large that it has in reserve for every soul
a path of his own choice, accessible and full of allure-
ment. I do not believe there is a single individual
who cannot end by meeting, in the limitless realm
THE LYRICS OF LIFE 101
of art, with a mode of expression that touches him,
conforms quite accurately to his powers and tastes.
You see I have waited a long time before pro-
nouncing the word. I must at last make up my
mind to call art by its name. Listen and do not
confuse modesty with timidity.
The past century has produced important artists
in every country in the world. That was a beau-
tiful, fertile and truly generous century! And yet
it witnessed the birth of a misunderstanding that
grows more obdurate, that increases as it grows older.
Should one ever allow a misunderstanding to grow
The romantic writers and, following them, all the
artists of their epoch, intoxicated with their own
genius, honored art as a religion. It was natural
enough since at that moment, as we know, mankind
was beginning to detach itself from its divinities, and
it is hard to live without God. I cannot bring my-
self to condemn that enthusiasm. I love art too
well, and I shall always hold it as one of the distin-
guishing marks of man and one of the greatest things
in this world.
But the priests of this new God have acted like
all priests: they have hurled anathemas and brought
in a reign of intolerance. They have grown mad
102 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
with pride, when there was reason and when there
was no reason for it. They have cried out at all
hours of the day, " Away, profane ones ! " Many of
them, who have had very noble souls, have dis-
couraged, as if designedly, those whom their radiant
face has fascinated. Others, instead of struggling,
have held the epoch responsible for their ill-fortune.
All of them, poets, painters, musicians, have let it
be understood that they exercised a divine power and
that the mass of men must only wonder and be silent,
without themselves attempting anything of the
No doubt there is a certain virtue in this attitude ;
it has lavished solitary consolations on those who
have turned their backs on fashion.
The worthiest heirs of these illustrious men have
confirmed their tradition. They have devised a
splendid isolation, raised up a tower of ivory and
dug all about it a moat that every day grows deeper.
They have also stirred up childish and shame-faced
adversaries with a desire for the commonest sort of
popularity, and the confirmation of billboard success.
Yet humanity is waiting and longs to be treated
neither as intruders nor as children.
It cannot be said any longer that pure art is of no
use: it helps us to live,
THE LYRICS OF LIFE 103
It helps us to live, in the most practical manner
and every day.
Every moment you make instinctive, reiterated,
and forcible appeals to all the forms of art. And
that not only in order to express your thought, but
still more and above all to shape your thought, to
think your thought.
You find yourself in the midst of a landscape, and
there is an image at the back of your eye. The man-
ner in which you accept and interpret this image
bears the mark of your personality and also of a
crowd of other personalities which you call to your
aid without knowing it.
The day when the painters of our continent in-
vented that convention we call perspective, they
modified and determined, for many long years, our
way of seeing things. It must be recognized equally
that since the reign of impressionism we have under-
stood, possessed in a new way, the colors of the
You live in a sonorous universe where everything
is rhythm, tone, number and -harmony: human voices,
the great sounds of nature, the artificial uproar of
society envelopes you in a vibrant and complex net-
work that you ought unceasingly to decipher and
translate. Well, this you cannot do without snb-
mitlinif to the influence of the great souls who have
occupied themselves with those things. The under-
104. THE HEART'S DOMAIN
standing of movements, harmonies, rhythms, only
comes to you at the moment when the musicians re-
veal their secret to you, since they have been able,
in some fashion, to interest you in them.
And this is true in regard to everything. If you
discover something in your environment, if you per-
ceive an interesting harmony between two beings, a
curious relation between two ideas, you will succeed
in throwing them into relief, in giving happy expres-
sion to them, only by means of the poet's art, and
if you cannot find terms and images of your own,
you can freely borrow them from Hugo, from
Baudelaire, from those unknown artists who have
elaborated the common language of men.
We do not think alone. Resign yourself, there-
fore, to being the delighted prisoner of a vast, human
system from which you cannot escape without error
and loss. Become, with good grace, the friend and
the guest of great men.
They will introduce you to a profound, passionate,
lyrical life. They will aid you to possess the world.
Art is not simply a manner of moving the pencil, the
pen or the bow. It is not a secret, technical process.
It is, above everything else, a way of living.
If your business is to grow wheat or to smelt cop-
per, perform it with interest and skill. That will
THE LYRICS OF LIFE 105
render service to other men whose function is to
assemble colors, shapes, words or sounds. They
will know how to render service to you, in their own
fashion, repay you in turn. But do not imagine that
their works are destined merely to divert your leisure.
They have a more sacred, a more beautiful mission:
that of placing you in possession of your own wealth.
Art is the supreme gift that men make of their
discoveries, their riches.
No one has possessed the world better than Lu-
cretius, Shakespeare or Goethe. What do you know
of Croesus, who heaped up his gold to such an ab-
normal and monstrous degree? Nothing has re-
mained of that chimerical fortune but a vague mem-
ory. But the fortune of Rembrandt has become and
will remain the fortune of our race.
To follow the example of these masters is not so
much to try, with pen or palette in hand, to imitate
them, as to understand with them, and thanks to
them, what they have understood.
This cannot hurt your pride or hinder the expan-
sion of your own personality. Quite the contrary.
This studious humility is the surest path toward the
conquest of your own soul. The anatomists will ex-
plain to you that the human embryo adopts success-
ively, in its quick evolution, all the forms the species
has known before its actual flowering. This great
law rules also in the moral order, and do not count
106 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
on escaping it. It is bj first knowing the world
through the masters that you will succeed some day
in grasping it in your hands, dominating it yourself.
Ambition is an intoxicating passion, but to go to
school to genius is a prudent measure and a sweet
If you are unhappy, oppressed, if you have melan-
choly doubts of your future, of your ability, of your
power to love, and if nothing in heaven replies to
your prayer, to your need for deliverance, remember
that you are not abandoned without resource. Men
remain to you. The best among them have made for
your consolation, for your redemption, statues, books
Open one of these books, therefore, and plunge into
it ! Sink into it as into a cool forest, as into a deep,
A man is speaking to you of himself or of the
world. Read ! Read on ! Little by little the har-
monious voice envelopes you, cradles you, lifts you
up and suddenly bears you away. The tightness in
your throat seems to relax, you breathe with a sort
of fervor and exaltation. Generous tears start to
your eyes or your whole soul shakes with laughter.
This great and wholesome exaltation people at-
THE LYRICS OF LIFE 107
tribute to the miraculous presence of beauty. No
doubt, no doubt ! But that vague and simple expla-
nation is an almost mythical one.
For you must realize that the man with whom you
have just been having a sort of intimate colloquy has
comforted you and carried you out of yourself
mainly because he has been able to prove to you that
you were neither abandoned, nor destitute, nor truly
disgraced. He has seemed to you great but, in re-
calling to you that you are of the same race as him-
self, he has effaced himself before you. He has given
you happy, courageous, new tlwxights, and you have
suddenly seen that you were thinking them also.
For a second you have both communed together.
And you have felt yourself once more in possession
of a treasure that was escaping you.
It is true, all these thoughts are your own, since
it is enough for you to see them in writing to recog-
nize them. It is true, you too have your grandeur,
your nobility and infinite resources. How could
you have forgotten it for a moment? It is enough
for you to open that book or to hum that song to
remember it. It is true, your life also is astonish-
ing and full of adventures. How (lid you fall into
that despair? What did that discouragement sig-
108 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
During the winter of 1917, I made the acquaint-
ance of a young provincial musician who was serving
in the same unit with me. At Soissons we found
a room where we were able to meet and play to-
Our new comrade was a simple man with a coun-
He played the violin carefully and with talent.
Often, during our concerts, we watched his face as it
bent over the instrument, and it seemed to us that in
those moments that humble violinist was in communion
with the great souls of Bach, Beethoven, and Franck,
that he was holding a brotherly and affectionate con-
versation with them. I felt then that he had nothing
to envy in the princes of this world. And it is a
fact, I believe, that he did not envy them anything.
Do not tell me that you do not know how to play
any instrument. That signifies nothing. There are
two skilful professional musicians in my group who
play their instruments only just enough to enable
them not to lose practice for their calling. They
are a sort of mechanicians. As for you, you have a
heart, ears, and a memory. And that's the main
Believe that what you hold in your memory is more
precious than everything else, for you carry that
THE LYRICS OF LIFE 109
with you wherever you go, through all your days.
Do you think I can ever bore myself, with all those
thousands of airs that sing in my head, that se-
cretly accompany all my thoughts and offer a sort
of harmonious comment upon all the acts of my life?
If this does not seem possible to you, remember
that you possess the immense library of humankind
and all its museums. Think of all you have read
and admired. Think of it with pride and affection.
Think of all that remains to you to see and to read
and tell yourself how marvelous it is to be so igno-
rant as to have such riches in reserve, to have such
treasures to conquer.
Amid the ordeals and the disillusionments of your
existence, lift your soul every day toward those di-
vine brothers who are our masters, and repeat with
a proud humility: " It is sweet to sit down at your
feast ! And how good to think that it is to you we
owe our opulence and our prosperity ! "
SORROW AND RENUNCIATION
IF, concerning an old man, some one said to us :
" He has been perfectly happy all his life, he is
going to die without ever having suffered," we should
be incredulous at first ; then, if we were obliged to
admit the truth of the remark, we should feel for
this old man not so much envy as pity. With our
astonishment would be mingled, in spite of all, some-
thing a little like contempt.
Happiness is our aim, the final reason for our
living. But is it fair to say that sorrow is opposed
There are sorrows that one cannot, that one should
not, escape. They are the very price we pay for
happiness. It is by means of them that WP travel
toward otir own d" ;-lopment. They prepare us for
joy and render us worthv of it. Without them,
could we ever know that we were happy?
If I believed, O my unknown friend for whom today
SORROW AND RENUNCIATION 111
I am hoping these consolations, if I believed that
you could reach happiness, that is to say, the har-
monious prosperity of your soul, without experienc-
ing any agonies, I should not undertake to praise
your suffering. But you suffer, I know it, and you
are called to other sufferings. Henceforth I shall
not refrain from praising what wounds you. For
one does not console anyone by depreciating his
grief, but by showing him how beautiful, how rare,
how desirable it is, and your suffering can truly be
I do not dream, then, of depriving you of your
wealth. I only hope that you will be able to ap-
preciate its full value. I beg that you will pardon
me if I chance to hurt you by placing my hand upon
your wound. I do it, you may be sure, with the
affection and the solicitude of a man who has con-
secrated his life to such tasks.
They will tell you, my friend, that I am seeking to
flatter your distress by reasonings that are full of
guile, that I am singing to lull you to sleep and
deceive you, that I am dressing in the gilded clothes
of an age that is past the black demon that torments
you. Let me still have your confidence: I have only
one ambition, it is your own greatest joy. I
could not lead you astray without shame and without
deceiving myself; for are you not indeed myself, O
112 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
There are some material fortunes which humble
and reasonable men do not desire because they divine,
in spite of the pleasures that result from them, what
a crushing load they are.
By contrast, among the spiritual riches that we
are able to possess, grief seems surrounded by a
simple aureole. It is tyrannical, redoubtable, mu-
tilating; its favorites are its victims. It does not
descend upon its chosen ones with the softness of a
dove, it pounces like a bird of prey, and those whom
it carries off into the sky bear upon their sides the
marks of its clenched claws.
But it is the sign of life ; of all our possessions
it is the last to leave us, it is the one that escorts us
to the brink of the abyss.
It gives us the measure of man. He who has not
suffered always seems to us a little like a child or
The bitterness of men who have been often visited
by sorrow is so truly a treasure that, if they could,
they would not rid themselves of it for anything in
the world: it resembles authority.
Through his tears, through his martyrdom, he who
is charged with a great sorrow feels that he is the
abode of some terrible thing that is also sacred and
majestic. Great griefs command our respect. Be-
SORROW AND RENUNCIATION 113
fore them knees tremble and heads bow as in the pres-
ence of thrones and tabernacles.
He who has suffered greatly makes us feel timid
and humble before him. He knows things that we
can only guess. We gaze upon him with passionate
admiration as upon a traveller who has journeyed
over oceans and explored far countries. It is at the
time of his first wounds that the young man dis-
covers his soul and plumbs his inner nobility.
Our grief is so precious a blessing that for its
sake we dread inquisitive contacts. We preserve it
jealously from the touch of those who might, through
clumsiness or stupidity, debase this terrible and pre-
cious treasure. We long only that people should
leave us alone with this bitter possession ! Let them
beware of frustrating us when they imagine that they
are working for our relief!
When sorrow leaves us too soon, we feel a sort of
shame and think less well of ourselves: it shone out
of its shadowy casket, out of the deepest depths of
the chest where we heap up our true treasures, and
now, behold, it has vanished! We find ourselves al-
most miserable and utterly dispossessed.
The man who beats a retreat before a great ordeal
fills us with distrust and pity. Something in us re-
joices that he has not suffered. But something re-
grets that he has not given his measure, that he has
not been the hero, the potent, exceptional man we
114 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
hoped he would be. And that is not a mere per-
version of our need for the spectacular: we are not
less exacting with ourselves.
When sorrow comes to us, and we manage to es-
cape it, the first sense of deliverance we feel is marred
by an obsjcure, obstinate regret, as if we had lost an
opportunity to enrich ourselves.
Tell me, what man among us did not, at the outset
of the present great catastrophe, interrogate his own
fate with a double anguish : the anguish to know what
sufferings were in store for him, the fear also that
he might not suffer enough, that he might not re-
ceive, and quickly, an adequate share of the ordeal.
This religious respect we experience in the face of
grief gives its meaning and beauty to the feeling of
We do not wish to admit that a great grief can
live side by side with us without demanding that we
should share it. As a man. of lowly station wistfully
approaches the table of princes, so we revolve about
the grief of others in the hope of being invited to
partake of it.
It is an overmastering impulsion that rises from
the depths of our natures. The eagerness we are
able to bring to the sharing of others' joys is but
SORROW AND RENUNCIATION 115
lukewarm beside the insurmountable urge that makes
us share in their sorrow.
This is because our taste for joy is stamped with
a keen quality of reserve, an irreducible delicacy.
The joy even of those who are nearest to us can
easily become repugnant to us. We are too proud
to seem eager for it. True grief, on the contrary,
attracts us, fascinates us. It disarms our critical
sense and leaves us only an obscure feeling of envy.
Sympathy stirs us gently without overwhelming
us ; it is for this reason too that we find it so full of
Although we recoil from the terrors of the leading
part, sympathy permits us to play passionately the
role of supernumeraries.
It is not we who are struck down and yet we can
taste the mystic horror of the wound. The chosen
victim bestows alms upon us and we accept them
without shame. We have the perfume of the Host
on our lips and it is not our blood that has paid the
sacrifice. We are the guests at a sumptuous and
tragic feast. We bear the reflected light of the
great funeral pyre, without undergoing the flames
and the destruction.
That explains our leaning toward those works of
art that find their strength and their subjects in
human grief. It is for this reason, surely, that we
116 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
love so dearly to shed tears at the theater. The
great artists have drawn from grief their most beau-
tiful inspirations. We vow eternal gratitude to
those who can revive in us a faithful image of our
torments and call them back to our forgetful souls,
to those who know so well how to give us a foretaste
of the delights that future suffering has in store for
Not all griefs exalt us and add to us. There are
some that are sterile, withering, unconfessable.
Such griefs bring only misery and impoverishment.
In the moral order they stand for debts and failures.
However great may be our blind indulgence for our-
selves, we cannot, on principle, impute them to our-
selves. They do not bear the stamp of destiny but
of our own baseness.
Who, indeed, would wish to share them with us,
when we do not even let them appear?
Who would wish to associate himself with our
weaknesses, our shames, our jealousies, our betray-
als? Who can feel sympathy for a grief that dis-
avows everything pure and generous that exists in
us ? No mention is made of these griefs in the Beati-
Christ himself might ask us to kiss the face of a
SORROW AND RENUNCIATION 117
leper. But what charity could so sacrifice itself as
to embrace our shame and our degradation?
That is the cup we must put away from our lips.
The stoics pursue their strange happiness with an
impassibility that is worse than death. Epictetus
writes : " If you love an earthen vessel, tell yourself
that you love an earthen vessel, for then if that ves-
sel is broken you will not be troubled by it. If you
love your son or your wife, tell yourself that you
love a mortal being, for then if that being chance
to die you will not be troubled by it."
Comes our wisdom at such a price? If so, I re-
nounce and abhor it. Better trouble and sorrow
than this inhuman serenity !
Certainly I willingly renounce the earthen vessel ;
the sound of its breaking will never be loud enough
to interrupt the conversation our souls pursue. But
those dear faces that are my horizon, my heaven and
my homeland, can I think without anguish of losing
them forever? How irreparably I should despise
myself if, on that condition, I succeeded in winning
my own salvation !
This philosophy is poor, forsaken, desperate,
rather than truly wise. It renounces, by degrees,
everything, for the sake of an ironical peace. It
118 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
withdraws from life the least debatable motives for
continuing it. It seeks to close the heart to sorrow.
But since that remains inevitable, it is better to love
it, better to make an ally of it, better to conquer it
by main strength and possess it intimately.
Dryness. ot h^art cannot be a good^iin^. What,
is everything to be taken away from me, even my
grief, even that grief which remains to us when all
other blessings have been ravished away?
The resources of philosophy are poor and desti-
tute unless the heart can anoint them, sanctify them,
and invest them with its own supreme authority.
The fanaticism of grief is a fact so profoundly
human that religions and governments have exploited
it successfully. This almost mystical passion flour-
ishes so well among peoples that are permeated with
the ancient traditions of suffering and renunciation !
Nevertheless, the path does not lie through this
sublime error, which is altogether too favorable for
the enterprises of criminal ambition.
Sorrow cannot be a thing that one covets. It is,
it ought to be, simply a thing that one accepts.
Like certain terrible dignities, like certain over-
whelming honors, one receives it, one does not seek
it. Destiny brings a sufficient burden of mourning
and cruelty, it should not be tempted. The noble
SORROW AND RENUNCIATION 119
life demands that we shall be courageous, it does not
require us to be foolhardy. To him who " seeks
while he groans," suffering will never be wanting.
At this hour the whole world is intoxicated with it,
satiated, it would seem, for all time. At this hour
there rises an immense cry, of pity and supplica-
All generous souls are wounded to the quick and
stagger. It is not in the moment when they beg for
mercy that one would desire a superaddition of
martyrdom. It is enough to assume the sanguinary
wealth with which we are overwhelmed.
No one will ever be deprived of it who lives for
love. We shall all be honored according to our mer-
its. And we shall know that grief is its own re-
ward ; for it is in sorrow and abnegation that our
soul becomes supremely aware of the beauty of the
world and of its own virtues.
We cannot ask to be indemnified for our
riches. . . .
In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children!
It is true! Our child was born in sorrow, in your
sorrow, O my friend ! I am jealous because of it.
Forgive me, for your part is more beautiful than
mine, inasmuch as it contains more suffering. Let
120 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
me look upon you with envy. Let me think of my
own lot with regret.
You have borne, you have brought forth, you have
nourished. It was not in my side that this little
body lay. It is not my flesh this tender, greedy
mouth has clung to. I have known nothing of that
suffering. You have kept it all for yourself. I
have only picked up the crumbs, like a beggar, like
I have not suffered! I have not suffered enough!
I look on my happiness as upon something usurped.
It is your happiness that I share. It is your wealth
that overflows even upon me.
I know that a day may come when we shall both
suffer together because of this son. But whatever
may be our common anguish, you will always keep
the first place, you will always walk before me.
You have forever outdistanced me along the shining
How can I help regarding you with envy, I who
have not suffered enough?
Exalted spirits, struck by our many resemblances
to the beasts, have striven to find what was the dis-
tinguishing mark of man. It is a noble solicitude^
for wheresoever the mark of men may be it is that
way we must go. If we really possess a character-
SORROW AND RENUNCIATION 121
istic virtue of which the animals are deprived, it is
that which we must exalt, in order to be completely,
Pascal said : " Man is obviously made to think ;
and his whole dignity, his whole merit, and his whole
duty lies in thinking rightly."
Can we indeed believe that no other being has this
grandeur to any degree? Are we so sure that "a
tree does not know it is miserable "?
Even art, which may turn out to be the instru-
ment of our redemption, is not certainly the lot of
our race alone. Song and the dance triumph among
the animals and often appear like the beautiful in-
ventions of a gratuitous activity, with no other end
than themselves and the emotions they give or in-
In renunciation, perhaps, lies our distinction, the
trait which stamps us and sets us apart.
I say " perhaps," because animals also offer us
examples of abnegation. Sacrifice beautifies even
their habits. With them, too, the individual sacri-
fices himself for the group, the hercl sacrifices itself
for the race. At the moment when I am writing
these lines we are in autumn ; a swarm of bees is
dying of cold on a branch beside me. They are
dying with a sort of resignation, in order that their
hive, so poor in resources, may survive the winter.
Why not share, then, with these humble victims,
122 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
our most beautiful quality? Why refuse to possess
something in common with them, since it is a virtue?
Why cut ourselves off haughtily from the rest of
Over and above this, the renunciation that has no
particular or general motive of interest, the pure
and absolute renunciation which is a heroic folly, is
undoubtedly our business. I am not speaking now
of the renunciation of the better religions, the re-
nunciation that counts on celestial rewards, but of
the renunciation which is an end in itself, which
finds in itself its own sorrowful recompense.
Can we ever forget, my friend, that woman who
was the lesson of your youth, your counsellor and
She lived in that dark, low room where you so
loved to go and to which you used to show me the
way, a way that seemed to me that of veneration
Disillusionments, griefs, sickness and, without
doubt, a great need for renunciation had gradually
sequestered her in that unlovely place of refuge,
encumbered with old books and full of the odor of
dust. She seemed cut off from the world ; but in
the shadow of that retreat her eye sparkled so
vivaciously, she spoke with so melodious a voice that
SORROW AND RENUNCIATION 123
the world pursued her who had abandoned it even
into her retirement: the friendship of young people,
that friendship which is so pure and spontaneous,
was for her a constant testimony. This was the
only thing she would not renounce, her only orna-
ment, her last elegance, her possession.
Year by year death came to snatch from her af-
fection those of her own blood. Every sort of hap-
piness withdrew from her as she retired into her
abode, light itself she dreaded more and more, and
more and more renounced.
Every time we passed through her little door, so
slow in opening, we had at first an insurmountable
feeling of being suffocated, for we were still intoxi-
cated with our radiant life, our destiny and our
But soon our eyes grew accustomed to the dark-
ness, our souls recognized the humble, penetrating
odor of the hangings, and we found again that beau-
tiful, commanding glance, that voice with its super-
Her malady struck her new blows. This woman
who still possessed the space of three rooms had to
shut herself in one of them. And then, even of this
she possessed no more than a corner. Her world
was only a little wall and the wood of an old bed.
That ardent eye still shone. That spiritual
voice still prevailed. One day the voice faltered
124 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
and sank, like a ship disabled in a storm which gives
up all resistance.
That day we were sad, sad, we who had not learned
Delivered from romanticism, the nineteenth cen-
tury toward its close and the twentieth century at
its beginning, exalted an image full of the pride of
physical life, of impetuous health.
Never had humanity seemed more intoxicated with
its carnal development, with its splendid animality,
than at the very moment when the war broke out.
Our humanity! behold it now, covered with wounds
so deep that for long decades the sight of them will
baffle us and fill our pity with despair.
Behold it now, like a vast race of invalids. It
creeps over a world where now there are more grave-
yards than villages.
We have had an unparalleled experience of sorrow
And yet the desire for happiness is deeply rooted :
the unanimous voice to which our world listens
repeats, from amid the sobs : " We shall renounce
nothing ! "
To him who listens with an attentive ear, it says
again, it says particularly : " We shall renounce
nothing, not even renunciation ! "
SORROW AND RENUNCIATION 125
But let us leave this immense grief to itself. Let
us leave it to satiate and appease itself with its own
contemplation Silence !
THE SHELTER OF LIFE
TWO immense worlds remain faithful to me when
the others discourage or betray me. Two
refuges open to my heart when it is weary, faltering
or harassed with temptation.
I should like very much to tell you about them,
since you are my friend. I can tell you, since you
have nothing to envy me, since you bear within your-
self two such worlds, two kingdoms that will submit
to you undividedly, without contest.
Yesterday I was watching some prisoners working.
They were pushing the trunk of a tree lashed to a
cart. Sweat was rolling down their faces, for the
heat was great, the slope steep and the load heavy.
An armed soldier was watching them. Large letters
were printed on their clothes to proclaim their servi-
tude. And I thought : they live, they do not look too
unhappy, they do not seem crushed by their condi-
tion. And if this is so, it is not because they have
the placidity of beasts. No! Look at their eyes,
THE SHELTER OF LIFE 127
listen to their voices. It is precisely because they
are men and they carry everywhere with them two
refuges, whither the gaoler cannot follow them, two
precious possessions that no punitive discipline can
snatch from them : their future and their memories.
The longer I watch, from close by, those men who,
for four years have led the inhuman life of the army,
the better I understand the meaning of their in-
credible patience : between the future and the remem-
bered past they have the air of awaiting the pas-
sage of a storm. They are gulping down, you would
say, hastily and with closed eyes, this bitter and
criminal present, in order lo reserve their hearts all
the better for the things of the future and the past.
One feels in their conversation only these two lumir
nous existences. They seek and unite them unceas-
ingly above the bloody abyss. I have also observed
that, in the concerts they give themselves to cheer
their periods of rest, their souls always return, with
the same rapture, to their former way of living, to
their old sons, their familiar ways of being sad or
joyous. The artistic attempts that are carried on
to interest them, at the bottom of their hearts, in
the formidable present, remain sterile and, as it were*,
They seem to reply, silently: "What have all
these things to do with us? Isn't it enough for us
to live them? Isn't it enough for us to do them,
128 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
every day with our blood and tears? Give us back
our dear kingdom. Give back to our souls that
memory which is their most imperishable and mar-
Between the future and the remembered past, man
is left to struggle with what he possesses least, the
And yet this present is lavish of all sorts of ma-
terials that we can transform into riches. It is our
liquid fortune, mobile and in circulation. It is the
well-filled purse upon which we draw for our daily
It reaches us out of the depths of time, like a
great river, loaded with sailing-ships and steamers,
deep, flowing, beautiful with all its reflections, and
rolling gold in its sands.
But it has its rages, its whims, its cruelties. Ac-
cording to the season, it overflows and desolates the
land or suddenly dries up and deserts the fields that
it refreshed with its floods !
So be it! If the present refuses to yield its
manna, we will draw upon our last resources. If
the times overwhelm us with bitterness, we will flee
to our refuges, where we have nothing to fear from
intruders or masters or tormentors.
Common-sense folk, who have the secret of de-
THE SHELTER OF LIFE 129
basing life in the name of a reason that is more mis-
chievous than actual stupidity, are in- the habit of
devoting an almost superstitious worship to the pres-
ent reality. To tell the truth, they are greatly
afraid that the taste for memory and hope will turn
young men away from that immediate action which
is necessary for the conquest and preservation of
They honor with great pomp the origins in the
past of those traditions that are favorable to them ;
and the way they invoke and prepare for the future
loads the present with chains and shackles.
They dread, in reverie, an enemy of action. As
if there were any great actions that have not their
source in great dreams!
These people deceive themselves. They sacrifice
an unequalled consolation to the needs of a fleeting
fortune. But do not imagine that the failure of
their fortune leaves these men utterly abandoned :
the refuges open gladly, even for those who have de-
An intimate friend once said to me, as he watched
his little son playing: " You see; he's no longer the
baby you knew last year. He 's another child. I
have been cheated of the one I had last year. I
shall never have him again. I have lost a child."
ISO THE HEART'S DOMAIN
O dear, big heart, how beautiful and how unjust
those words are ! How human ! How they overflow
with ingratitude and with adoration!
You know quite well that every object that ap-
pears on the horizon of our souls has, for us, two
existenfces. One is sudden, sharp, almost always
penetrated with an intense and, so to say, corrosive
flavor: that is the existence of the present. Men
agree in recognizing that its duration is hardly
measurable. But the other existence is perennial, as
ample as the measure of our life and our thoughts;
in this sense it is almost infinite.
Thus each moment of the present survives in mem-
ory for years, and doubtless for centuries, since pos-
terity can gather up and prolong the best of our
acts and our works.
It is true, my friend, that each moment dispossesses
us, even of the object we never withdraw our arms
from. The miser, infatuated with his material
riches, may well suffer agony of mind over them,
but we, we? Do we not know that each moment re-
stores to us, transfigured, all the treasures it has
snatched away from us? It robs us of the frailer
blessings, it offers us imperishable blessings, less
mortal than ourselves.
You have conquered one whole happy day. Con-
template without regret the sleep that marks its
end, for you will continue to live this day during
THE SHELTER OF LIFE 131
all the rest of your life. And if this day was truly
beautiful, do you not know that others after you
will continue to live it, down, ever farther down, the
succession of the years?
Let your son grow, without too much anxiety, like
a beautiful tree: the child he was once, the child he
was but now, the child he is at present, you will not
lose them, O insatiable heart ! They will escort you
toward old age, like a beloved multitude that in-
creases every day and cannot die.
Owing to the war, I have seen my own child only
seven times, and each time I have hardly recognized
him. Seven times I have believed him lost. I know
now that I have seven lovely images in my soul, seven
children to adorn and hearten my solitude.
There are beauties which the present fails to ap-
preciate. That is natural, because it is greedy, dis-
ordered, care-ridden. Memory exists to see that
justice is done. To it falls the divine role of restor-
ing and, at times, pardoning. \ It is memory which,
in the last resort, vindicates and judges. It is in its
light that things appear to us under the aspect of
None of our thoughts would be really happy that
had not received the approbation of memory, that
did not find themselves sealed at last with its sov-
THE HEART'S DOMAIN
ereign imprint. ( We do not know the true value of
our moments until they have undergone the test of
memory. Like the images the photographer plunges
into a golden bath, our sentiments take on color;
and only then, after that recoil and that trans-
figuration, do we understand their real meaning and
enjoy them in all their tranquil splendor.
Days of ours that had seemed to us dull and hope-
less show themselves in memory luminous and de-
cisive. Journeys undertaken without eagerness,
without enthusiasm, and without any of the fresh-
ness of surprise, become, from a distance, fruitful
in revelations and discoveries.
Every reality develops with time a thousand
aspects of itself that are just as real, as charged
with meaning and consequence, as the original aspect.
We cannot foretell what memory will contrive for us.
It is a treasure all the more precious and unexpected
because it is so independent of our rudimentary logic.
For the logic of memory is more subtle than ours ;
it seems entirely free from our miserable calculations ;
it draws its inspirations from our true interests,
which we ourselves are forever misapprehending.
The slow task it pursues testifies to so rare a virtue
and so munificent a wisdom that man, struck with his
own unworthiness, might well seek there the signs of
a divine intervention.
Sometimes it is a friend, whom we have misunder-
THE SHELTER OF LIFE 133
stood or misjudged, who takes on in memory his
true aspect and his true stature and reveals the
profound influence which, without our knowing it, he
has exercised over our thoughts.
Sometimes it is a word which we heard at first
with an inattentive or distrustful ear, and which we
find again engraved in letters of gold over the por-
tico of the secret temple where we love to collect our
Like some skilful goldsmith, memory seizes the
materials that our life accumulates haphazard. It
submits them to the touchstone, fashions them, em-
bellishes them and imprints upon them that mysteri-
ous sheen which gives them their distinctive meaning
and their value.
The cult of memory should not turn us away from
the present out of which memory itself draws it8
We sometimes meet men of whom plain people say,
with profound wisdom, " Their mind is elsewhere."
It is true; they are the timid and tonm-nted souls who
have early sought in memory a refuge which noth-
ing, it seems, could ever make them renounce.
Let us beware of troubling this retreat. Some
day, perhaps, we may long for one like it. But how-
ever deeply one may seem to have taken refuge in
134 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
memory, one cannot escape the clutch, the invasion
of the present.
It is best, therefore, and with all the strength that
is in us, to accept, honor, love this present as the
principal source of our riches.
If the true cult of memory were a less exceptional
moral usage, many men would hesitate to create bad
memories for themselves ; for our worst memories are
not those of our sufferings, our ordeals, our priva-
tions, but of our shameful acts, our cowardices and
Our weakness lasted only a moment ; must we
really, for thirty years, feel the hostile stare of that
moment resting heavily upon us? Who knows?
Hope, even so, in the clemency of memory, which is
able to mitigate and pardon everything. It is in-
dulgent and full of pity. In a world given over to
spite and reprisals, it remains the only inviolable
refuge of the outcast, as the cathedrals used to be
in the days of the right of sanctuary.
For him who descends with true fervor into his
own depths, memory always preserves some corner
pure from all baseness. Do we not know, moreover,
that in order to console us memory consents to work
in concert even with its enemy, forgetfulness?
THE SHELTER OF LIFE 135
Who can dispute with us the world of memory?
No one ! And who would dare, without fear, to do
so? It is because we are more ardently attached to
this possession than to any other.
At times, a clumsy or malevolent hand succeeds
in smirching one of our dear memories. Then we
experience an indignation and a despair as lasting
and profound as if these sentiments recognized their
cause in the loss or the fall of a loved being.
Happily this criminal work implies a rarely evil
spirit, a sort of perverse genius of which humanity
is none too prodigal. And then our memory is a
territory too vast, too mountainous, too impreg-
nable as a whole for the rage of hostile destruction
to be able to defile or mar large portions of it. The
best of our memories thus remain in safety and for
us alone. Besides, we keep careful watch around
Our great memories are actual moral personages,
so necessary to our happiness that we bear them
under a sacred arch, sheltered from all injury, from
all contact. It is into this solitude that we go
ceaselessly to question them, invoke them, call them
A past in common does not always give memories
in common, so true it is that the heart defends itself,
136 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
in its innermost retreat, as the physical self defends
its flesh against the intrusions of the stranger.
It sometimes happens that men find pleasure in
recalling in our presence the episodes of an existence
that was passed, by themselves or by them and us,
in companionship. It is then that we measure the
road our soul has travelled on its solitary path:
these things of which they speak to us, these deeds
which, it seems, we have performed, these landscapes
which they remember having crossed in our company,
we no longer recognize ; we do not even wish to recog-
nize them. We smile in an embarrassed, awkward,
unhappy way. Our whole attitude says : " Is it
really true that we have drunk from the same cup?
For all that, it was not the same wine we drank, and
my intoxication is not yours."
We cannot give to one who is dear to us a greater
proof of love than to admit him to the intimacy of
our memories. We have need of all our tenderness
to help us to introduce another soul into the sub-
terranean basilica, to lead that soul as close as pos-
sible to the refuge where, in spite of all, there is only
room for one.
Perfect communion in memory is an extraordinary
favor, and an admonition. If it is given to you to
enjoy it, open your arms and receive one elect soul.
THE SHELTER OF LIFE 137
No doubt you have had the experience, when pass-
ing through a country where you were travelling for
the first time, of stopping short, as you rounded a
mountain, before some unknown horizon, and finding
it strangely familiar.
No doubt you have had the experience of arriving
at night in a dark square where you knew you had
never been before, and briskly finding your way
through it, just as if you were resuming some old
At times the spectacle of a smiling valley arrests
you at the top of some hill. You thought you knew
nothing of this country, and yet strange and sure
impressions guide you ; they are like old memories.
You advance, and behold, you are looking at every-
thing as if you recognized it. That road which
winds between the pastures, as supple and sinuous as
a beautiful river of vellow water, you are almost
certain you have followed it long ago, in some misty,
far-off existence which, nevertheless, is not your own.
There are times, too, when you arc dreaming, as
you sit alone, and suddenly a memory passes over
you: the memory of some act the man you are surely
never performed. Yet it is not a fabrication, an in-
vention. You know, you feel, that it is a personal
memory. A memory of what world? Of what life?
138 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
Do not reject this shadowy treasure, and do not
tremble ! Do not accept complacently the explana-
tions of the superstitious or of the pseudo-scientists.
The flesh of your flesh was not born yesterday.
Something survives in it that is contemporaneous
with all the generations. Many a revelation awaits
us. Let us keep for them a soul that is accessible,
experienced, and not too distrustful.
Do not imagine that to possess memory is to pos-
sess a dead world.
Among your friends there is surely one who has a
house and a garden. From time to time he invites
you to visit him. Every time you enter his house
you observe some striking change: he has connected
two parts of the building which till then had no
means of communication. He has planted some new
trees. The old elms are flourishing. Some rose-
bushes have died. Urns have been set out on the
lawn. The life of men, of animals, of plants has
drawn the inanimate world into its toils, modeled it,
sculptured it, forced it to take part in the move-
ment of the soul.
It is in like fashion that the domains of memory
cultivate themselves and live. They are not ruins,
inalterable, rigid, fixed forever in the ice of some
past epoch. Life still penetrates and moves them;
THE SHELTER OF LIFE 139
they do not cease to share in its enterprises, its la-
bors, its festivals.
When a man has opened for you several times the
same gate in the wall, when several times he has re-
lated the same adventure to you, with intervals of a
few months or a few years, observe closely the spots
to which he leads you and the persons to whom he
presents you. Every time you will find new things,
you will find that roads have been laid out, under-
brush cut down, windows opened and unexpected
supernumeraries called in.
Is it true then that that was a dead tale, wrapped
up in what we call the shroud of the past?
The world of " living memory " is so indissolubly
bound up with our resolutions and our acts that in
accumulating memories we feel we are preparing,
erecting our future itself.
There is another refuge!
" What makes hope so intense a pleasure," writes
M. Bergson, " is that the future, which we fashion
to suit ourselves, appears to us at one and the same
time under a multitude of forms, all equally smiling,
equally possible. Even if the most desirable of them
all is realized, we must have sacrificed the others, and
we shall have lost much. The idea of the future,
pregnant with infinite possibilities, is therefore more
140 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
fertile than the future itself, and that is why we find
more charm in hope than in possession, in reverie
than in reality."
The idea of the future alone interests us : that
*alone is our treasure, that alone is endowed with ex-
istence. It is that indeed which we call the future.
And if M. Bergson, at the end of these admirable
lines, creates a distinction between the future and
the idea of the future, he does not make us forget
that he has just, and as if by design, caused the
confusion ; for what " we fashion to suit ourselves "
is the idea of the future, and nothing else. But,
following the example of M. Bergson, let us call
our idea of the future the future itself.
This idea is our cherished fortune. Certainly we
take a passionate interest in seeking, in what flows
out of the present, something that resembles the
realization of our dreams. And yet their realization,
like their failure, marks, in every sense, their end,
their exhaustion. And that is insupportable to us.
Whatever fate the present reserves for our imagin-
ings, we labor every day, as fast as time devours
them and destroys them by making them finite, to
push them further back into the infinite, to prolong
them, to reconstruct them, so that we may never
have less of a future at our disposal.
This need of a future, which has no other connec-
tion than our hope with the rugged actuality of the
THE SHELTER OF LIFE 141
present, is so deep-rooted, so generally human a
thing, that one cannot contemplate it without a re-
spect which is almost religious. In order that this
future, so pregnant with dreams, should be as neces-
sary as it is to the moral life of most men, it must
represent a truly incomparable treasure. The em-
brace we throw around it is the close and powerful
embrace we reserve for those possessions that lie
nearest our hearts. And, since we have already de-
tached the word " possession " from the gross mean-
ing that is usually attributed to it, let us say that
the possession of a dream, when it assures our hap-
piness, is a reality less debatable and less illusory
than the possession of a coal-mine or a field of
But as there is no possession without conquest,
without effort, we must merit our dreams and culti-
vate them lovingly.
If people who have taken the mould of reason re-
proach us with distracting for a moment the men of
that practical reality which pretends to be prepar-
ing the future, we are ready to reply to them:
" Glance at those men to whom our words are
addressed. You know that they are crushed with
fatigue and privation. They have experienced
every danger and every sort of weariness. By what
right will you hinder them from taking refuge in
a world which is henceforth the least contestable of
142 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
their domains? Do not, on their account, be afraid
of reverie ; it could never fill them with as much
bitterness as does this modern reality of which you
are the unpunished builders.
" If you are not weary of glimpsing your future
through the specifications, the account-books, the
cage-bars, and the unbreathable fumes of industrial-
ism, at least allow these to cherish a marvelous and,
in spite of all its disappointments, an efficacious fu-
ture. It is not a question of forgetting life, that
is too beautiful and too desirable, but rather of am-
plifying and fertilizing it. Whatever may be the
outcome of a generous dream, it always ennobles the
man who has entertained it. Allow the unhappy to
be rich in a possession that costs them only love and
simple faith. Do not let your reason dispossess
them of the only treasure that your greed has not
been able to snatch from them. It is the cult of
the future and of memory that sustains man in the
uncertainty of the present hour. If he walks by
instinct towards these refuges, do not turn him
aside, and think, O priests of reason, of the warning
of Pascal : " It is on the knowledge of the heart
and of the instincts that Reason has to lean, and es-
tablish there the whole of her discourse."
THE SHELTER OF LIFE 143
I have seen thousands of men suffer and die.
Every day I see new ones enter the somber arena and
struggle. My part is to help them in this torment,
to assure them aid and hope. I have a wide expe-
rience of these things now and I know that men are
never denied a future, even- when life is on the point
of betraying them.
Philosophers and poets, led astray by religion or
by a mystical passion for death, have given the severe
counsel that we should never conceal from the dying
the approach of their annihilation. It is a theo-
retical view of charity, an artificial, mischievous doc-
trine that does not stand the test, that should not
be put to the test. Its partisans suspect falsehood
where there is only pity and modesty, for it is not
the part of man to be so proud of his own judgment
as to take away from someone with the certitude of
life that fabulous future which is more precious than
I remember, in 1915, a wounded man, who had
just received the visit of a priest moved by praise-
worthy intentions and a clumsy exaltation, saying
to me suddenly, " I know now that I am going to
die! " and beginning to weep terribly. I went to see
the priest and reproached him for his behavior.
" What ! " that eloquent man replied haughtily, " do
144 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
you who are incapable of preserving this unhappy
man's earthly life blame me for assuring him his fu-
ture life?" Alas! Alas! I still think of the sobs
of that wounded man; they were those of one who
has just lost his supreme wealth and to whom noth-
thing else can make amends.
Soldiers who, in the full vigor of their youth,
suffer a severe, a final mutilation experience at first
what is like a veritable amputation of their future,
so true is it that every part of our physical self is
intimately bound up with the labors of our dream.
Then, with surprising rapidity, and long before the
disorder of the tissues has been exorcised, one sees
them filling in the moral breach, raising up the
crumbled wall, propping it hastily and reconstruct-
ing, quite as new but quite complete and tightly shut,
the sacred fortress outside which their soul remains
vulnerable and disarmed.
In truth, the man who is condemned to death is
still rich in the future, even when his body sinks, ten
times pierced by bullets, even when he has only one
drop of blood left, one flickering spark of life.
O present hour, magnificent, foaming fountain,
you know very well that we shall be faithful
to you ! With your thousand animated faces, your
landscapes, your problems, your combats and that
THE SHELTER OF LIFE 145
heavy burden of jostling ideas you carry with you,
you will always attract us, you will see us all to-
gether drinking of your waters.
But when you no longer contain for us anything
but anger and hatred, greed and cruelty, then indeed
we must each of us abandon you and turn to our
refuges ; we must each of us withdraw into the
Thebaid where all things still respond to our voice, to
our voice alone.
May our fate preserve us from the greatest of all
misfortunes ! May our refuges never lose in our
eyes their virtue and their security ! This supreme
affliction at times befalls us, and it is then that our
souls, exiled from their homeland, must set them-
selves humbly to the search for the lost grace.
THE CHOICE OF THE GRACES
WHAT man, tell me, what man, were he sud-
denly delivered from disgust with himself,
from terror of the world, from the sadness of an
age that is without pity, from remorse for a thing he
has done, from the fear of things he has to do, what
man, suffering from one of these evils, or from sev-
eral of them or from all at once, would not experi-
ence an immense relief, would not feel a certain ab-
solution for the errors of the universe, a certain al-
Jeyiation of his own in the contemplation of this
little osier-bed which I descry this evening, at the
turning of a lane?
What is there so profound, so divine in that
Nothing, nothing, no doubt. Everything, per-
haps. For who would venture to maintain that
there is anything in the world that might not be a
sign for my heart and yet be nothing more?
I was following a stone wall, an indecipherable
THE CHOICE OF THE GRACES 147
wall at present, without significance, without com-
passion, an enemy. It shut in my view and
my thoughts, it was covered with cold mosses
and all the dampness of winter. And then,
all at once, the wall ended and there was a little
valley crowned with these osiers. Yes, I mean
crowned, for it seemed as if all its desires had been
granted, all its aspirations satisfied, all its prayers
Thousands of crimson branches rose in a* chorus
toward heaven, like clusters of some smooth, straight,
up-springing coral. All the branches rose together,
with one brotherly impulse, like the desires of a
world freed from ambitions and vowed to the one,
the noblest ambition of all. But why seek for
words, why strive to paint it? Surely it was not
the flaming sap of the young shoots any more than
the little rivulets smoking like censers at their feet,
it was neither of these things that promised relief
and deliverance. It was the entire world that mani-
fested itself in this, its smallest fragment, just as
the most secretive man will betray himself by the
trembling of his little finger or the flutter of an
I was once saved by the tarpaulin of a humble de-
livery wagon. That tarpaulin certainly knew no
148 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
more about it than did the men who owned it, or had
the use of it here below. There are, in every object,
qualities we are ignorant of and that are precisely
those through which this object fulfils its most beau-
tiful role in the universe, those to which it inclines
as if toward some miraculous purpose, which are
indeed its vocation and its true destiny.
I remember it was a morning in February, one of
those hopeless mornings which we feel do not deserve
the evening and will hardly attain it. I do not
know what I had done to myself or to my men to
have so completely lost all courage and purpose; but
that morning I was certainly the most destitute of
beings and the least worthy of an act of grace.
Yet for all that, grace was shown me, for that
marvelous tarpaulin appeared. It was of heavy can-
vas, yellow and green. Its color, its folds, its whole
appearance, the form it concealed, in fact I know
not what element in it, showed me that I still could
live, that my faults were forgiven me, that nothing
about me was irremediable.
I am willing to pass for a man who is eager for
forgiveness, a man who is satisfied with little. We
wish to set our own value on everything, as if the
things of the spirit meant the same thing as money,
as if they did not depend upon quite another spirit
than that of the accountants and geometricians.
I met a priest, it was since the war began,
THE CHOICE OF THE GRACES 149
with whom I often talked about penance and con-
trition. I asked him one day what price he would
ask for the remission of the heaviest burden on one's
conscience. He answered without hesitation :
" Three paters and three aves." This man was cor-
rupted by the customs of the world and its au-
thorities. He filled me with a sort of desire to in-
sult him, and I confess I gave him some rude shocks.
Since then I have reflected. I have not become
reconciled to the memory of that priest, but I believe
that grace touches us in a most unforeseen way ; it
shines out suddenly, without any reason, like the
radiant blue in a sky where one has not expected it.
It manifests itself without regard to the efforts we
make to deserve it, and the occasions it selects are
not in proportion to our distress. But how sov-
ereign it is, how much the most desirable of all bless-
Remember, remember ! you were walking through
the streets, a prey to some irremediable pain. Your
poverty seemed unlimited, for it could not be palliated
by more money, an improvement in your health or
the renewal of a broken friendship. And yet, never-
theless, you suddenly breathed in the wind an im-
perceptible odor, familiar, charged with memories,
you suddenly encountered in the color of a house, or
in the look of an unknown face, some mysterious sign,
and you felt that your wealth had been given back
150 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
to you, that it flowed through you once more as the
saving blood returns to the heart of the dying man.
I was walking one day along the banks of the
Aisne, the prey of an illimitable mental torture
which, just because there was no reason for it,
seemed incurable. The image of a bridge in the
water suddenly gave me back my confidence in my-
self and my accustomed joyousness. It was only a
reflection ; but never believe those who tell you that
these things are nothing but reflections.
When a man who is cruelly wounded in his body or
his spirit preserves a cheerful faith and never coases
_to be the master of his misfortune, I say that he
When a true man is able, for an hour, to contem-
plate without uneasiness his own thoughts and ac-
tions, I say that he is touched with grace, and I hope
that hour may last a day and that day an entire
Like a sailing-vessel that stretches through the air
its slender, vibrant cables, probes the sky with its
strong and supple masts, offers to the wind, at ever-
varying angles, the white resistance of its sails and
marvelously dominates all the forces of the air while
seeming to obey them, the man who possesses grace
enjoys a communion that is profound, perfect, ex-
THE CHOICE OF THE GRACES 151
quisite, not only with whatever in the world is per-
ceptible to us, but above all with what is unknown.
That man weighs much in the baskets of the win-
nower. That man does not see only within the lim-
its of his own flesh. He fills in his own self almost
the whole universe, participates gloriously in the in-
I know that it often happens that the beautiful
ship sees its sails sinking in distress and no longer
feels its ropes trembling in the wind. The time
comes when it stops painfully in the stupor and in-
difference of noon.
The time comes when the rich man suddenly finds
himself on Job's dung-heap. The time comes when,
without reason, grace deserts the heart.
Wait expectantly, with sails spread like an ear,
with rigging firm, and perhaps, where others less
trustful would find themselves abandoned, you will
perceive a certain relenting breeze.
You must never lose contact with the universe if
you wish to live in the state of grace.
Welcome your own true thought, whatever may
be the hour at which it visits you. If it chooses to
rouse you in the middle of the night, rise to do it
honor and look at it with clear eyes.
There are some who have just missed an hour of
152 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
greatness because they preferred to slumber under
the warm eiderdown. The spirit called them in a
low voice, in the darkness of the cold room ; they did
not rise and they will never know what they might
have become. They will try- to console themselves
by thinking they have dreamed; will they ever con-
There are some who, suddenly, through the mist of
tobacco smoke, have seen their souls, like some
long-awaited supernatural being, watching them.
At the moment they were playing cards or read-
ing their paper; they thought: "Wait, I'll join you
in a moment." The game ended, or the paper
thrown aside, the visitor had departed.
They rushed forth in pursuit, their hearts con-
vulsed with shame and anguish. Alas ! the deep
melancholy glance will perhaps never shine upon
them again. Perhaps they will never again come
face to face with themselves.
In the midst of pleasure, when you are enjoying
the company of a woman or the conversation of bold,
intelligent men, if you chance to hear the voice of
solitude singing like a siren at your feet, leave
everything to flee with her.
When Epictetus said : " Our good and evil exist
only in our own will," he misstated the problem.
' THE CHOICE OF THE GRACES 153
That is one way of solving it, but more often it is a
way of assuming that it has been solved, an expe-
dient for passing it over.
I am not happy today ; I am not pleased with my-
self, I am not pleased with anyone; I feel quite cer-
tain that everything I undertake will be a failure,
above all, above all, I do not want to undertake any-
thing; I view all things with an unprofitable eye, an
irritable and apparently dricd-up soul. I am driven
to suffer myself and make others suffer. Oh ! I
am without grace! I know it and I am far from
admiring myself. Secretly I long to feel grace at
last descending on my head and shoulders like a
mantle of soft sunshine, like the honeyed perfume
that falls from the lime-trees.
What does that old man want? Why does he re-
peat with a sort of obstinacy : " It depends upon you
to make a good use of every event "?
No doubt it depends upon me!
But what are we to do when nothing can be blamed
upon events? And what when, indeed, there are no
Is it true that it depends upon me to be myself at
such times also? Answer me, great, silent trees!
Answer me, fir-tree, weighted down with sleet and
dreaming Heine has told me of the palm con-
sumed with burning heat in the tropics.
" Drive out," replies the philosopher, " drive out
154 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
your desires and your fears and you will never again
True ; but I have only one fear : not to be the
best man I may ; only one desire, not to give in to
The sage shrugs his shoulders and then says in a
gentle voice : " Bear and forbear." And he is not
thinking only of the storms that come from without.
He says this because he well knows that in order
to be happy one must be visited by grace.
All the stoics have drawn up rules of virtue. Not
one has suggested the means that will give us the
strength to apply them. For the wish is not enough.
The gift is necessary, that secret impulse which is
Praise be to thee, divine world, that hast deliv-
ered me from anger by revealing to me in time that
trembling blossom of the convolvulus !
Praise be to thee, divine world, that, at the very
limit of my fatigue, in the midst of my perils, hast
chosen mysterious ways to light me with an inner
Millions of unhappy men who are suffering at this
moment on the fields of distracted Europe are aware
that at the blackest moment of distress a strange
consolation can penetrate them ; it is as if the fingers
THE CHOICE OF THE GRACES 155
cluching one's heart suddenly relaxed their grip.
There are some who call this God. Many others give
no name to the miracle, but long for it on their knees
all the same.
The voice no longer speaks from the burning bush.
Sometimes it is the sound of last year's leaves still
rustling in the branches of an oak. Sometimes
there is no sound ; only the speaking glance of a
veronica in ecstasy among the April fields.
I am quite willing to bear, but I do not wish to
forbear. I do not wish not to meet grace halfway,
not to seek for it in the night flooded with frosty
perfumes, in the tossing forest where two inter-
locked branches groan through the long hours, on
the plateau haunted with thistles that labor with
feverish piety to perpetuate their innumerable
I ask only to be allowed to interrogate the earth
like those who seek minerals and water-courses, and
to experience every morning the green ascent of the
spring-time over the rocky slopes.
I do not know by what path joy will come; I ask
only to be permitted, none the less, to go to meet
it, for truly I cannot sit here by this mile-post at the
cross-roads, and placidly await it.
One joy has come to me during the war, one that
is undoubtedly the greatest joy of my life: that of
having a child. My reason did not revolt at it, it
156 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
did not dare to tell me that it was foolhardy to de-
sire a child at a time when the human world was left
without defense against confusion, disorder and
crime. Yes, I rejoiced to have a man-child born
to me now when the future of men seems to be cor-
rupted for long years to come. I even hailed the
child as a savior. You see, the paths. of joy are as
unknown to us as those of grace.
I shall not forbear, therefore, and when I feel my
heart bleeding from an unjust wound I shall go with
respectful steps and recover myself in the world of
solitude. I shall not ask in the name of justice, I
shall not insist, I shall not importune ; I shall wait
until it manifests itself and sets me free, I shall wait
until at last it bestows upon me the grace which, like
a fine sap, like mother's milk, it always contains.
Solitude! I can still conquer it among a hundred
thousand chattering companions ; I know how to
sing to myself little songs that surround me with the
silence of the steppes.
I will go back again to the ravine where, the whole
summer long, a blackbird I know of whistles that
same liquid song that grows purer and more perfect
from week to week. Ten notes are his whole career
and his reason for being. Perhaps on a day that
music will be just what my soul needs to recover its
flight, like a stranded bark which a lazy wave has
just set floating.
THE CHOICE OF THE GRACES 157
I will go back to the spots where I have been
happy, and I do not think this will be very impru-
dent ; for, like the perfume a woman leaves in her
garments, like a drop of wine in the bottom of a
glass, a little happiness often remains attached to
I shall go out again behind the hamlet, where I
know that every morning a couple of turtle-doves
mingle a plaint that secretly cuts the silence, hollows
it with a melodious tunnel.
And I shall stretch myself out there, my face to
the sky, like a well-exposed vine that longs to ripen
some fine fruit.
I ;im saying what I shall do, with the sole purpose,
with the deep desire, that you will all do the same,
and that you will each turn to your favorite star;
and all this with the earnest desire that you will not
be content to remain sheep marked, without redemp-
tion, for the knife.
It requires little at times. The soul is not more
exacting than the body. I have seen exhausted sol-
diers whom a single swallow of brandy raised up
again to the heights of courage. I have seen seri-
ously wounded men brought back to life when their
bodies were turned a little in order to facilitate the
uncertain flow of the blood.
The soul is no less fragile, no less sensitive. If
the western view keeps you sad, turn lightly to the
158 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
south. We do not know what the divine world holds
Happy are those who are able to pray. It is
thus that Christians solicit grace.
It is easy to fall on one's knees ; but to be able to
pray one must already possess that grace which one
implores. It is so great a gift, the gift of prayer,
that it is almost indelicate to desire anything else
To drink is a small matter. To be thirsty is
Why do the Christians, who counsel us to pray
in order to obtain grace, never tell us what we must
do in order to be able to pray? It is not for noth-
ing, nevertheless, that they arrange the play of light
and shade through their stained-glass windows, the
odor of stones and incense, the silence of the vaults
and the propitiatory sights of the organ, all those
harmonious snares set for the wandering prayer.
As for me, I shall take a staff and go out seeking
the solitude of the world. If this world is a city
street at dawn, that will do ! A misty dock, its
outline broken by rails and masts, that will do !
A sunken road, lighted by the flowering broom,
that will do ! The court of a barrack, the muddy en-
THE CHOICE OF THE GRACES 159
closure of a prison-camp, oh ! pitiful as it may seem
to me, may it still seem good !
If I can walk, straight before me or far and wide,
I can pray. If I can see a scrap of the sky, I can
pray. And with all nature offered to my soul, I
can pray, I can pray in spite of everything and as
if without willing it. I must see that osier-bed, or
the radiant awning of that wagon, or the image of
the bridge in the water. I must hear the moaning
of those interlaced branches; then I am able to feel
myself bathed in grace.
Grace ! It is indeed the fleeting consciousness man
has of his divinity.
And now, now especially, and more than ever, we
say to ourselves, man must have faith in his divinity !
THE beautiful legend of the multiplication of the
loaves of bread is miraculous only in the ma-
terial order to which we try to confine it. But the
infinite multiplication of moral nourishment is our
daily spectacle, our joy, our encouragement.
We know that the possession of material goods in-
clines us to exclusiveness, solitary satisfaction: if I
wish to share with you this beautiful apple I hold in
my hand, I must make up my mind to enjoy only half
of it myself. And if there are four of us the part
each one has will be proportionally reduced. Ah !
blessed would be the wonder-worker who could re-
fresh us all with a single glass of water, stay us all
with a single mouthful of bread.
That miracle flashes forth every day before our
eyes. All moral wealth seems to increase by being
possessed in common. The more a truth is spread
abroad the more its beauty, its prestige, and in a
way its efficacy, grows. The veneration a hundred
peoples throw round a painting of da Vinci's, a song
of Gliick's, or a saying of Spinoza's has not par-
titioned these lovely treasures but has added to their
importance and their glory, has developed and opened
up the whole sum of joy that lies latent in them.
Great ideas have snrh radiant strength! They cross
space and time like avalanches: they carry along
with them whatever they touch. They are the only
riches that one shares without ever dividing them.
This fact invites each one of us to make himself
the modest and persevering apostle of his own truths,
the propagator of his discoveries, the dispenser of
his moral riches. Our own interest demands it im-
peratively, no less than the interest of others. We
shall never be really happy until we have admitted
and converted to our joy those whom we love; and
we shall love them all the better for having brought
them some joy, for being among the causes of their
The journeys we have made alone without com-
panions leave us a memory that is melancholy and
without warmth. It is because we have had no one to
whom we could communicate our admiration, our
wonder. Seated alone before the most majestic
landscapes, we have had no one to whom we could
express our enthusiasm, and deprived of this expan-
sion it has been stunted, it has remained, we might
say, poor. Sharing it would have enriched it.
162 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
We love solitude, indeed; it is the cold and silent
fountain at which our soul is purified and confirmed.
But what would it profit us to have amassed great
riches, by the help of solitude, if we had no one to
whom to offer them?
It is because he feels this anxiety that man seeks
a lasting union. Among a thousand generosities,
love offers him the opportunity to enjoy compan-
ionship without renouncing solitude. A happy home
is the solitude of many a soul. The man who has
entered into a beautiful union is sure of at least one
person to whom he can give the best that he possesses.
Perhaps you will say to me : " How can I be an
apostle when I have in myself only a wavering faith?
I would enjoy being generous, but I am obliged to
beg from the generosity of others. Such advice is
for those rich souls who, precisely because they are
rich, have no need of advice. It is with this kind of
fortune as it is with money, it crowns those who al-
ready possess it! My soul is poor and timid; what
sort of comfort would it be for other souls that are
poor and timid also?"
O my friend, "how deceived you are in yourself!
How much like ingratitude your modesty seems !
First of all, let me tell you that the heart that doubts
its resources is rich without knowing it. The pas-
sion of humility weighs it down ; let it free itself
without becoming proud ! In the realm of the in-
telligence, you have surely observed, it is only actual
imbeciles who never doubt their faculties. The man
who can admit his own insufficiency at once gives
proof of a rare perspicacity. In the same way, if
you think you are poor it is because you are not.
The only natures that are truly arid are those who
do not recognize and never will recognize their own
This morning you went out at dawn to take up
your duties. In the marsh that slumbers along the
edge of the road there were such delicate green and
purple reflections that you were struck by them.
You spoke to me about them, very subtly and sensi-
tively, as soon as you were able to see me. You
were generous with me. You shared your good for-
tune with me. Thank you !
Who spoke to me about Faisne's unhappiness?
Who suddenly opened my eyes and made me realize
the profound misery of that soul? It was you! I
am still touched by your affectionate insight, I still
marvel at your fortune.
You remember that night when we were lying
stretched out together in the fields, looking up at a
sky that was rippling with milky light. You said
nothing to me, but I understood that evening that
you were possessed, to the point of intoxication,
164 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
with an immense, terrible idea, that of infinity.
Thanks to your silence, I shared with you that over-
Who lent me that beautiful Swedish book I did
not know? Who spoke to me so enthusiastically
about it ? It was you, you again !
Who sings to me, when I am tired, that song as
poignant and serene as a breath that has come from
beyond the midnight oceans? You know very well,
my friend, it is you.
I could tell you of a thousand instances of your
generosity, a thousand apostolic words that have
issued from your lips.
Ah! my friend, can you disavow such riches? Can
you show at the same time such bitterness and such
Every day you discover a means of transforming
into happiness the elements that others possess and
neglect. Do not hesitate, therefore : show them the
fruitful use they ought to make of their blessings.
And do not ask any other recompense than the
pleasure of having been the giver, the initiator.
The total amount of joy that prevails on the face
of our world is of great importance to you and to
me. One must always labor to augment it, whoever
the direct beneficiaries may be. There is no one who,
in the end, will not catch its echo, who will not re-
ceive his own personal profit from it.
And that is also why, in the present immense mis-
ery of the world, the selfish pleasure-seekers feel
themselves ill at ease, even when their untimely pleas-
ures are seen by nobody.
If you will, we can begin with the resolution never
to undeceive anyone who thinks he possesses any-
There are some who make it their care and pride
to deprive their neighbors of those illusions that
Ibsen calls " the vital illusions." The characteristic
of these illusions is that they cannot be replaced.
To tear them away leaves a man mutilated, without
any possible reparation.
Young people, assuredly, have a very exuberant
sap and all sorts of encumbering shoots. Skilful
and careful shears may well cut off, here and there,
these over-greedy branches and the tree will bear
heavier and more fragrant fniit.
But can you without guilt take away his wealth
from that old man whose illusion is his only pleas-
ure? Beware of cutting off all its leaves from that
old trunk that will never bring forth again and has
nothing but its foliage with which to subsist and
feel the sun.
Distrust those men who have what is like a false
passion for truth. They are swollen with presump-
166 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
tuous vanity. They do not know that real truth
exists only where there is faith, even faith without
an object. Of what importance is the object? It is
in faith itself that our grandeur lies.
In my childhood, I often used to stop in to see a
certain humble, white-haired shopkeeper. She vege-
tated in a dark little shop and was always sitting
behind her window, where the dust lay thick over
the toys and trinkets. Her business was very poor,
but she loved to say at night : " The passers-by were
very good today. They looked in the window a
I noticed, in fact, that nearly all who went by
turned toward the dark shop a long, dreamy look,
full of unusual interest, that sometimes caused them
to stop short.
One day, as I was myself passing before the poor
little display, I suddenly understood what it was the
passers-by looked at so kindly : it was their own faces
reflected in the dark window-pane.
I was still very young, but I realized vaguely that
it would never do to disclose this disastrous discov-
ery to my old friend.
But this passive good will is not enough. It is
not enough not to harm things. Marcus Aurelius, I
believe, has said: "One is often as unjust in doing
nothing as in doing what one does." You must un-
derstand, therefore, that not to share your inner
fortune is, in some sort, to rob those who surround
We must first declare our blessings : we must try
to do this without shame and without arrogance.
Those who enjoy an intense and efficacious inner life
draw from it a great deal of pride ; they would gladly
communicate it if they did not know that these treas-
ures seem ridiculous to the common men ; it is really
shame, therefore, that prevents them from being
In spite of the cry of Hamlet, it is through words
that one discovers and possesses the world.
The rhetoricians have done their work so well
that at times words seem dry, empty of pulp, empty
of juice. They are no longer nourishing food, they
are discordant sounds.
It needs only a little confidence and generosity to
restore their meaning and their weight. Then they
become precious and faithful. We call them, like
devoted persons, to our aid ; they come at once out
of the shadow and show themselves docile to our
Marcus Aurelius, of whom we have just spoken,
has said this also : " I wish always to define or de-
scribe the object that presents itself to my thoughts,
so as to see, distinctly and in its nakedness, what it
168 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
is in its substance, considered as a whole, and sepa-
rately in all its parts, so as to be able to tell myself
its true name as well as the true names of the parts
of which it is composed and into which it can be
resolved. For nothing is so suited to elevate the
soul as to analyze as much as possible, with method
and justice, everything that one meets with in life,
and always to examine each object so as to be able
to recognize at once to what order of things it be-
longs, of what use it, is, and what is its importance
in the universe and, relatively, to man."
It is with words that this task is accomplished.
I have noted another beautiful expression on this
subject; it is from M. Anatole France. "Words,"
he says, " are ideas. ... I think the highest race
in the world is that which has the best syntax. It
often happens that men cut each other's throats
over words they do not understand. If they under-
. stood each other they would ombraro rach other."
Be very sure then that the words of which we
make use are deserving of all our care, all our re-
spect. They are the witnesses of our thoughts.
They will betray us if we degrade them to base uses.
Choose them with great tenderness ; that is a qual-
ity as enviable as precision. And by means of these
choice words, loyally express your fortune.
Tell what you have discovered, what you know.
In affirming your possession you render it sure,
positive. You labor for others and for yourself.
You give form to your treasure and yield it, as if
perfected, to those who truly wish to avail them-
selves of it.
Yes, in acting in this way, you are also working
for your own profit. Do not let us leave s this burn-
ing subject too quickly.
If I were not afraid of giving a conviction the
form of a whim, I should say : " You do your work
and it does good to you."
Among the ideas that are dear to you and that
you are glad to express are not only certainties,
verified results, the testimony of experience. There
are many wishes, many longings, too. By virtue of
being enunciated, these end by reacting upon you,
by gently imprisoning you. ( When you speak of vir-
tue, or happiness, or the spirit of adventure or cour-
age, you further certain things that are indeed your
own; you further also many other things that you
passionately wish to have become your own, your
unique and recogni/od quality.. By virtue of express-
ing them, it comes to pass that they in turn react
upon you ; a moment arrives when you are morally
constrained to become the product of your opinions.
In this sense your work does for you the good that
you have done for it.
170 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
Admit, therefore, that if it pleases you to see and
to paint your life in generous, harmonious colors, it
is inevitable that harmony and generosity should
little by little imprint their stamp on your serious
thoughts and on your acts.
Therefore speak, speak of your dream. Every
time someone tells you : " You do not live up to what
you say," think, with a smile : " Not yet, undoubt-
edly ; but I feel sure that one day my words, that is
to say, my thoughts, will prove to be truer than my
When you have tried and proved this method, you
will attempt to bestow it upon others.
To that end strive to win a reputation among un-
certain, hesitating people. Be prudent: this is the
time when it is of great importance to choose the
right ideas and words. But if you see one of your
companions torn between two opposing reputations,
imprison him in the better of the two.
I once knew a man who had done many good acts
and a considerable number of reprehensible ones.
One day, when I saw him hesitating between these
two different tendencies, I began to address certain
phrases to him that opened somewhat like this : " You
who are so good. . . . You who have done such and
such fine things." . . . And the result was that that
man became really good, in order not to betray the
reputation he had gained,
I foresee that you are about to pronounce the
word vanity. Stop a moment! It is not a base
stratagem that causes a barren soul to bring forth
a fine harvest. If I had called the attention of that
man to what was mean and sordid in his character,
he would have perhaps become a villain altogether,
and that would have been a shame for him, for me,
and for everybody.
We have discovered together, you will recall, that
the world is offered to all men that it may be pos-
sessed by each with the help of all. You see, then,
that irf your modest role of apostle there is a means
of making others rich while securing their help for
your own undertakings.
Estimate your wealth according to the impor-
tance of what you give. Dispossess yourself boldly.
Everything will be returned to you at the right time
and a hundredfold.
If the great apostles were able to bring the good
news, it was because they had faith; but nothing
could have exalted their faith more than to bring the
If you have been interested in something you have
road, in a walk, if you have been astonished at some
spectacle, invite all those whom you know to read
what you have read, to take that walk, to con-
172 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
template that spectacle. Show some discernment in
your invitations. Distrust the sceptics a little, the
ironical, cruel, or contradictory spirits. Distrust
them, but do not abandon them : they are the strayed
sheep whose return ought to rejoice your heart su-
premely. When you have made them admit : " Yes,
there's something really fine ! Yes, there's something
interesting, there's something worth the pain of liv-
ing ! " you may fall asleep with a smile ; your day will
not have been lost.
At times, you will make a discovery so rare, so
delicate that, by some secret warning, you will know
it cannot be communicated, that it is strictly in-
dividual, that it ought to re^nain as a private rela-
tion between the world and your soul. In that case,
keep your own counsel. Perhaps a day will conic
when your thought will have gained in precision
through being amplified; on that day you will be
mysteriously informed that your treasure has lost
its private character, that it has become suitable for
sustaining your communion with others. When that
day comes, speak forth. Until that day, however,
be patient ; do not fall into the error of those spirits
who are called obscure because they offer us impres-
sions that have been insufficiently ripened and ex-
perienced, impressions that are not for all humanity.
On the other hand, when someone offers you one of
these obscure impressions, do not reject it, do not
laugh with disdain. Force yourself to feel what has
been pictured for you in this faulty fashion. You
will do your partner a service in visualizing his dis-
covery, and you will perhaps be able to increase your
own stock. Perhaps there will be something worth
seizing and understanding at the bottom of it.
Always seek communion. It is the most precious
thing men possess. In this respect, the symbol of the
religions is indeed full of majesty. Where there is
communion there is something that is more than
human, there is surely something divine.
When you deem that you have grasped a truth do
not forget, in communicating it to others, that there
are two conditions of truth. Any truth one receives
is but a small fortune in comparison with the value
of that which one experiences. Therefore persuade
those you love into the experiencing of truths, into
the religious, courageous, persistent experiencing of
the well-beloved truth.
One dreams of a life in which everyone would be the
apostle of what he possesses and where all would be
the disciples of each%
If you wish to be an apostle, begin by never mis-
laying any of your wealth.
I once had a friend who said to me almost every
day: "This morning I had a beautiful thought; but
174 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
I can't find it again, I've forgotten it, I've lost it."
You have a purse to contain your money ; conde-
scend to have a scrap of paper on which you can put
your thoughts, where you can set them in order.
It is a slight means to what will eventually be a great
end. Be economical of your treasures so that you
may be lavish of them at the opportune moment.
Do not lose what you wish to give away.
You are like the seeker after gold, on your knees
by the bank of a river that rolls with sand and with
The rushing flood of your soul flows by, and you
watch it with fear and delight. Every sort of thing
is in it : mud, grass, gold, flowers, formless and name-
less debris. Gather to one side what you deejn
worthy to be preserved, do not let it escape in the
This mass of thoughts that crowd and elbow one
another, this storm that tumbles its way over you,
this unending dream that you have when you are
awake, when your soul abandons itself to its nat-
ural, spontaneous impulses, there, indeed, is matter
to terrify you! So many things appear and are
swallowed up again that scandalize or horrify you;
so many contradictions bewilder you, so many jewels
shine furtively forth, that you are by turns filled
with consternation, stupefied, dazzled.
You must choose among all these things. You
must draw out of the current what you recognize as
of value to you, and let the rest sink.
I beg you, keep the reckoning of your own soul.
Keep a little book in your pocket that is carefully
brought up to date. And do not trust your memory ;
it is a net full of holes; the most beautiful prizes
slip through it.
You must not have too much fear of not being
up to your task when you are approaching great
problems and great works.
That is something worth meditating for him who
sets himself to obtaining possession of the world,
who wishes to invite his companions to do the same.
Though it may have all the appearance of naivete,
confidence is less to be feared than the terror of
ridicule that paralyzes so many souls at the begin-
ning of the most beautiful adventures.
The fear of enthusiasm does as much harm as ob-
It is better to pass for a simpleton and become
the laughing-stock of the disillusioned than to miss
the opportunity to serve as the apostle of one's be-
loved verities. It is better to squander one's for-
tune than to run the risk of being the only one to
profit from it. There will always be a farthing to
fall into eager hands.
The main thing is to be, above everything else, a
man of good will.
176 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
The true enemy, if there is any such, is the phari-
see, the man of outward observance, he who adopts
every religion as a matter of fashion, who speaks
frequently and passionately of his soul in the same
way in which he speaks of his necktie.
If you are only two against a thousand in leading
this beautiful, pure life, rejoice that there are at
least two of you and do not despair of your course
Is it not Renan who has uttered this profound
saying : " The great things in any race are usually
accomplished by the minority "?
Do not rejoice because there are slaves. Let their
example be a fearful warning to you ; let it fill you
with an overmastering desire to free them from servi-
To the apostle Paul is ascribed that disquieting
utterance of the conquering soldier : " Oportet
Yes, undoubtedly, whoever wishes to fight needs an
The dazzling chance of such conquests is not, alas,
the thing you will be most likely to miss. But every
t is v\in 'hat docs not tond toward peace!
One thinks with ecstasy of the joy of a universal
communion, from which no one would be left out,
in which no one would be the victim.
Must there be heretics? Yes! To convince
them, but not to vanquish them, and still less to put
them to the stake.
ON THE REIGN OF THE HEART
" The knowledge of external things does not make up for
me, in times of affliction, for my ignorance of the moral
world; but my knowledge of the moral world always con-
soles me for my ignorance of external things." Pascal.
It has come, the time of affliction!
Whatever may be the outcome of this war, it
marks a period of profound despair for humanity.
However great may be the pride of victory, however
generous such a victory may be, under whatever
light the distant consequences may be presented to
us, we live, none the less, in a blighted age, on an
earth that will be devastated for long years, in the
midst of a society that is decimated, ruined, crushed
by its wounds.
Among all our disillusionments, if there is one that
remains especially painful to us it is the sort of
bankruptcy of which our whole civilization is con-
Man had never been prouder than at the beginning
of the twentieth century of the discoveries he had
ON THE REIGN OF THE HEART 179
realized in the domain of what Pascal called " the
We must admit that there was some excuse for this
intoxication, this error. In its struggle with matter,
humanity had experienced a success that was so dar-
ing, so disconcerting, and above all so repeated that
it lost a just conception of its adversary and forgot
that its principal enemy was itself.
Events have recalled this to it in a flash. In the
last year or two it has expressed its discomfiture
through millions of simple lips. It has asked with
anguish how " a century so advanced in civilization "
could give birth to this demoralizing catastrophe.
Stupefied, it sees turning against itself all those
inventions which, it had been told, were made for its
happiness. For hardly one is absent. Even those
that seemed the highest in moral significance, even
they, have contributed in some degree to the dis-
aster. Only the fear of creating an uncontrollable
situation has prevented certain of the belligerents
from forming an alliance with the very germs of
epidemic diseases and thus debasing the noblest of
all the acquisitions of science.
A doubt has grown up in all hearts : what, after all,
is this civilization from which we draw such pride
and which we claim the right to impose upon the
peoples of the other continents? What is this thing
that has suddenly revealed itself as so cruel, so
180 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
dangerous, as destitute of soul as its own machines?
Eyes have been opened, spirits have been illum-
inated: never did barbarism, in all its brutality and
destructiveness, attain results as monstrous as those
of which our industrial and scientific civilization has
proved itself capable. Is it indeed anything but a
travesty on barbarism?
What inclines one to believe this is that the peoples
which have dedicated to the gods of the factory and
the laboratory the most fervent and the most vain-
glorious worship have shown themselves in this way
by far the cruellest, the most fertile in inhumane
and disgraceful inventions.
M. Bergson has said, of the intelligence, that it
is " characterized by a natural incomprehension of
life." To this one might add: and by a complete
incomprehension of happiness, which is the very aim
With its retinue of ingenious inventions and clever
complications, the intelligence plays the part of
something irresponsible or criminal in the great dis-
order of the world. It seems not only incapable of
giving happiness to men, but actually adapted to
bewilder them, corrupt them, set them quarreling.
It knows how to provoke conflicts ; it is unable either
to exorcise them or to resolve them.
Scientific and industrial civilization based upon the
intelligence is condemned. For long years it has
ON THE REIGN OF THE HEART 181
monopolized and distracted all human energies. Its
reign has ended in an immense defeat.
It is toward the resources of the heart that our
hope turns. Betrayed by this clever intelligence,
whose formidable works have at times the very look
of stupidity itself, we aspire to the reign of the
heart ; all our desires turn toward a moral civiliza-
tion, such as is alone capable of exalting us, satisfy-
ing us, protecting us, assuring us the true burgeoning
of our race.
It is by juggling with words that people have been
able to attach the idea of true progress to the de-
velopment of the mechanical, chemical or biological
sciences. Trim progress concerns nothing but the
soul, it remains independent of the expedients and
the practices of science. This latter is able to tri-
umph even when the true progress, the ascent of
mankind toward happiness, is interrupted and
thwarted in its profoundest tendencies.
There are not lacking people to tell us that the
war will mark with precision the advent of n new
world, that it has bought in the blood and the flame
the moral elevation necessary for a fruitful and final
peace. We cannot share this optimism of official
eloquence. It is not the performance of tasks of
murder that opens to men the road to justice and
182 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
converts them to good customs. Humanity must
grow unaccustomed to crime, and it is not the armed
intelligence that can accomplish this miracle. The
pacifying work of the war will remain in peril if
everything that is healthy and generous in humanity
does not labor to dethrone this scientific civiliza-
tion which still abuses society after having reduced
it to helplessness.
I consider as negligible the objection of the stoics
who say that these miseries do not depend upon us
and that we ought obstinately to seek our happiness
through them, isolate our happiness from the sur-
rounding degradation. No ! These miseries do de-
pend upon us. In spite of its disdainful nobility, the
stoic resignation has here too much the look of
This moral civilization, when its hour comes, will
revive Christianity and propagate it ; it will not leave
the human race in the abandonment of the desperate
misery of today.
The naturalists and the sociologists have con-
tributed to spread this idea that moral progress is,
for individuals, a function of the anatomical com-
plex, and for societies of the complex of habits, in-
stitutions and industries. It is on this understand-
ing that they have undertaken the classification of
ON THE REIGN OF THE HEART 183
species and arranged the various human hier-
That is a view entirely external to things, it can-
not be verified as regards individual thought, it is a
sheer fabrication as regards collectivities : the war is
a bloody refutation of it.
If we mean by moral progress that which affects
the conditions of happiness, nothing permits us to
conjecture what advantages have been realized in this
direction by the vegetable and animal organisms that
have not chosen us as confidents. Habits, as we
observe them, cannot be a criterion, even if we admit
that we ought to seek for evidence among them ;
they seem as if designed to baffle all theories.
Those animals whose anatomical structure closely
resembles ours, not to say that it is exactly analo-
gous, to ours, such as cattle and sheep, give proof of
a moral activity that is insignificant beside the real
genius shown by the bee and so many other insects
whose nervous systems are still rudimentary in com-
parison with those of the mammals.
Certain sea animals, the barnacles, have suffered,
because of their sedentary existence, an anatomical
regression. We know that the mobile larva? of the
barnacles possess more complicated organisms than
those of the adult and stationary animal. To con-
clude from that that this anatomical regression is a
lowering of the species is to assume a great deal, and
184 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
it is to accord to movement a very debatable signifi-
There exist species of plant life, especially among
the conifers and the ferns, which, for thousands of
centuries, seem to have remained in an almost stable
anatomical and functional stage. These species are
none the less very widely scattered and very long-
lived, very adaptable. They offer an outward ap-
pearance of happiness and prosperity. On the other
hand, nothing permits us to affirm that certain
species, like the orchids, which have undergone a
delirious evolution resulting in forms of extreme an-
atomical complexity, have attained a true progress,
have improved, that is to say, their moral destiny :
we see them subject to innumerable external servi-
tudes. Their reproduction, even, is only possible
thanks to the intervention of outside agencies and is
fraught with perils. A seductive argument that
smacks of anthropomorphism inclines us to believe
that these species, intoxicated with their material
difficulties, ought to have a less free and less serene
The complexity of the individual organism, which
corresponds strictly to the political, economic and
scientific complexity of societies, adds neither to the
possibilities of life, nor to its scope of activity, nor
to its hopes.
Certain fish, the pleuronectes, have sought their
ON THE REIGN OF THE HEART 185
salvation in a very bold, precocious development that
ends in a displacement of their eyes, of their mouth
and in a profound disorder of their original sym-
metry. Looking at them, one has the impression
that this development has thrown them into an im-
passe, into a cul-de-sac from which it would be diffi-
cult for them to escape into a new evolution ; one has
the impression that this whole biological stratagem
has considerably restricted the destiny of the species.
Besides, and the naturalists know it very well, the
species that are most highly evolved, most dif-
ferentiated, to employ the consecrated expression,
are in a certain sense the oldest species, imprisoned
in their own tradition and scarcely to be counted
upon for a new adaptation, a profound reformation
of their organs and their habits.
This digression, too long for our restlessness, but
too succinct in view of the facts it involves, raises
One might, in the first place, object that evolution
is a thing which species undergo and which they
cannot influence themselves. If that is true, hu-
manity finds itself forced into an adventure against
which it is puerile and presumptuous to contend.
This attitude implies a submissive fatalism that de-
nies both our sense of experience and our thirst for
186 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
perfection. We are apt to construe our lessons in
such a way as to draw instruction from them. We
have shown this in many moments of crisis, and we
feel a certain repugnance to thinking that we cannot
turn to our own profit the most majestic lesson that
has ever been given to men.
Certain minds, on the other hand, have concluded
that humanity is altogether too old, too highly
evolved a species to be capable of ever again re-
nouncing what is fundamental in its inveterate in-
tellectual traditions, its scientific acquisitions and the
customs that have sprung from them.
If this conception of the world did not appear as
if stamped with lassitude and scepticism, it would
seem to leave us in the presence of a desperate al-
ternative: either the acceptance of a life without
restraint, given over to every sort of folly, exposed
to every sort of lapse into crime, or the solitary
search for an oblivion that only waits for death.
But will the peoples who have struggled so fiercely
for their material interests remain disarmed in the
face of the moral danger that threatens the very
morning of the race, will they undertake nothing
truly efficacious for the sake of posterity?
That is the anxiety that haunts generous souls
The political arrangements that will mark the end
of this war will be of no real interest if the minds
ON THE REIGN OF THE HEART 187
that control the spiritual direction of the peoples do
not labor, from now on -and in the future, to modify
the meaning of the ideas of progress and civilization.
We cannot believe that humanity is so deeply sunk
in its convictions and its intellectual habits as to
remain forever incapable of sudden change and
The human world has already passed through im-
portant crises ; it has already been forced several
times to reshape the idea it had formed of culture
It has always been amid its ruins that it has medi-
tated the conditions of a new life. If it is true that
ruins demand the revolution of customs, let us admit
that the heart of man has never been more urgently
entreated than today.
In any case, there is no question of giving up those
customs that form an integral part of our vital econ-
omy. It would be fantastic to consider the regenera-
tion of a society that was deprived, for example, of
the means of communication which have obtained for
a century and which we could scarcely abandon now
without suicide. But it is fair to consider how great
and dangerous is the hold of the false needs which
the study of the " external sciences " creates in us
and not to permit our ideal activity to be blindly en-
slaved any longer by our material ingenuity.
There exist in our nature ardent forces that one
188 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
cannot condemn without appeal and that will mani-
fest themselves against all discipline.
The passion of the sciences must be deeply-rooted
when we see men, in love with love, peace, humanity,
consecrating themselves, as if in their own despite,
under the cover of some abstract sophistry, to tasks
whose results may contribute seriously to the wretch-
edness and the debasement of society.
If one might gather together all the faculties of
the spirit for the single cause of happiness !
At least, and from now on, let us cease to consider
that the monstrous development of industrial science
represents civilization ; otherwise let us withdraw
from this word its whole moral significance and seek
another for the needs of our ideal.
Let us cease humiliating moral culture, the only
pledge we have of peace and happiness, before the
irresponsible and unruly genius that haunts the
laboratories. Scientific civilization, let us say, to
allow it to keep this name for a moment, has been
for us so prodigal in bitterness that we can no longer
abandon it uncontrolled to its devouring activity.
We must make use of it as a servant and cease any
longer to adore it as a goddess.
We must revise all our definitions, all our values,
our whole vocabulary.
ON THE REIGN OF THE HEART 189
All fervent spirits should set themselves to this
work, and their task will be all the heavier the more
widely extended they are assured their influence will
We must strive to make our stunned humanity re-
alize that happiness does not consist in travelling at
the rate of sixty miles an hour, rising up into the
air on a machine or talking under the ocean, but
above all else in being rich in beautiful thoughts, con-
tented with its work, honored with warm affections.
We must restore the cult of the arts which con-
tribute to the purification of the soul, which are con-
soling in times of affliction and remain, by their na-
ture, incapable of serving ignoble ends.
We must employ our strength to altering the
meaning of the words " riches," " possessions," " au-
thority," to showing that they are things of the soul
and that the material acceptance of these terms cor-
responds to realities that are perfidious and ironical.
We must at the same time transform the ideas of
benevolence and ambition, open a new career to these
virtues, create for them new ends and new satisfac-
tions. Those who consider such a program with
irony or scepticism make a great mistake. Its reali-
zation may seem illusory, but it will undoubtedly be-
come a necessity. The material goods at the dis-
posal of humanity will find themselves considerably
reduced both by the destruction of which they have
190 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
been the object and by the long arrest of the pro-
duction of them.
Their rarity and their growing expensiveness will
be the source of grave and almost insoluble conflicts,
which new effusions of blood will only make more
Humanity can hurl against this terrible future a
defiance full of grandeur. It can, under the influence
of its spiritual masters, seek its happiness in a wise
and passionate transformation of its desires.
Let us not urge it toward resignation but toward
the conquest of the true riches, those that assure it
the moral possession of the world.
The economists, whose science the war has so often
tested, are laboring to define what will be the con-
ditions of life in the period that will follow the world
war ; their estimates leave little room for the hope of
an agreeable and easy material existence ; they hold
over the mass of men, conquered and conquerors
alike, the menace of desperate labor and slight and
These learned researches, added to the similar con-
clusions of common sense, do not seem to discourage
the laborious race of men. They have been told they
must work, and even now, while they are struggling
against a hundred fearful perils, they are mentally
ON THE REIGN OF THE HEART 191
preparing to earn their difficult living, if only the
war does not take away their lives.
The modern industrial monster sets these condi-
tions in advance. We already know that competi-
tion will be pitiless, we know too that enjoyment will
only be for the highest bidder. Individuals, at the
sight of this future, mutually urge one another to be
stubborn. The world is preparing to take up again,
obstinately, the old order that has cost it so many
trials. As yet no one speaks of a new life.
There will be so many voices to praise these des-
perate resolutions, so many books will be written to
persuade men to persevere in their old hatreds that a
timid voice may well raise itself to protest against
the consummation of the error.
A man whom I love and esteem above all others
once said to me:
" When peace is signed and I return home, I shall
have to give up all the distractions I used to have if
I wish to work as much as will be necessary to re-
cover a situation as good as the one I had be-
Believe me, O my friend who said these words to
me, I love work too well to bl.'ime your decision; but
I was thinking only of your happiness, and it was
of your situation that you spoke to me. Are you
sure that they are rightly related, those two words,
those two ideas? What do you hope from the future
192 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
if you are not going to allow a large place in it to
What compensation will be left for our passion of
today if we take up all our prejudices again, if we
return to our own vomit?
The old civilization seems condemned. To break
with it, we must first of all seek our individual satis-
faction outside money, our happiness outside the
whirlpool of pleasure. We must flee deliberately
from the tyranny of luxury. In this way even the
events of the present oblige us to seek our true path.
Must we keep blindly and obstinately to the ways
of slavery? We have slighted the best sources of
interest, joy and wealth; shall we misprize them now
that they remain the only fresh and faithful things
in the aridity of our time? Shall we neglect our
souls again to seek a false fortune that can only be-
tray us? Shall we contend with exasperated brutes
over possessions we know to be unstable and decep-
No ! No ! Here should lie the lesson and the one
benefit of this war: that we should undeceive our-
selves about ourselves and about our ends ! Let us
not devote our courage to choosing a ferocious disci-
pline devoid of the ideal. Let us once for all reject
our calculating and demoralizing intelligence. Let
us organize, in the peace that returns, the reign of
ON THE REIGN OF THE HEART 193
The search for happiness cannot ignore the con-
ditions of the material life. Undoubtedly, well-being,
comfort, dispose us to a happy view of things; but
will they ever replace What a poet has called " the
contented heart "?
The Anglo-American peoples, susceptible as they
are to all the moral and religious revolutions, have
applied themselves to altering the original sense of
simple well-being so as to identify it with luxurious
comfort. That is a way of giving a moral aspect to
pleasure, making an honest bargain with the corrup-
tions of money.
The exigencies of this sort of life have largely con-
tributed to involving these peoples in a frenzied
whirlwind of business that wears a man out and be-
wilders him. The anonymous writer of the " Letters
of an Elderly American to a Frenchman " says to
my countrymen : " Your most beautiful country-
houses and your best hotels are occupied most of
the time by foreigners, while your own people have to
content themselves with miserable little cheap holes.
Isn't it absurd ! " Perhaps, O Elderly American,
but that absurdity is dear to my heart. May the
God of journeys always turn my path away from
the tainted spots where rise those buildings in which
the existence you think so enviable is passed. If we
194 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
are to consecrate our friendship we ought to discuss
the value of words : what you call happiness does not
The love of nature, the taste for those simple,
healthy joys that were so vaunted by the philoso-
phers of our eighteenth century have been the laugh-
ing-stock of our contemporary writers. A laugh-
able excess has led, by reaction, to a furious and
The dramatists and novelists of our time who, by
the quality of their opinions or by their political
positions are ostensibly laboring for a moral or re-
ligious end, have betrayed, in most of their works, a
servile and ill-concealed love of luxury. It is use-
less to give names ; let us say only that none of the
modern novels of certain of our authors lack those
descriptions and professions of faith that reveal the
quivering longing of the pauper for the delights and
enjoyments on which all his eager desires are fixed.
It is partly to the influence of this literature that
our old world owes the headlong rush of all classes
of humanity toward those pleasures that are only the
phantom** of happiness nnr T will nev^r be anything
If genius wishes to consecrate itself to a labor that
is truly reconstructive, truly pacific, it must discover
other subjects for its works.
ON THE REIGN OF THE HEART 195
If the future laws governing labor do not allow
enough time for the cultivation and the flourishing
of the soul, a sacred struggle will become inevitable.
The organizers of the modern world, who have
shown themselves powerless to avert war and did not
realize the vanity of our old civilization, do not yet
seem to foresee the urgency of radical changes in the
moral education of the peoples.
They continue to talk to us about the superhuman
efforts we must make in order to redeem their faults.
No one shrinks before these efforts. Society is
weary of crime but not of peaceful tasks. Every-
one prepares with joyous energy to take up his
former position and his tools again.
It rests with us all to mitigate the severity of eco-
nomic conflicts by working to transform the current
idea of happiness.
The possessors of material wealth have, in general,
for centuries, given to those whom they employ and
direct so scandalous and basely immoral an example
that they themselves are the principal fomenters of
the attacks which they will henceforth have to un-
In the machinery of modern industry, work has
lost a great many of its attractive virtues: all the
196 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
methods in force tend to diminish the part played by
the soul and the heart, and the workman, imprisoned
in an almost mechanical function, no longer expects
from work the personal satisfaction he once obtained ;
as a poet has said : " His empty labor is the fate he
Certain American methods have based their theory
upon a clever sophism; they exaggerate the auto-
matic under the pretext of thus cutting short the
length of the work. That is not a happy solution,
to cut short the hours of labor by emptying it of all
joy, of all professional interest. It is better to un-
dertake a long piece of work with relish than to hurry
through a short task with repugnance.
The specialization that is rendered necessary by
the very extent of scientific and industrial activity
remains a dangerous thing, especially among an old
race of encyclopedists like ourselves.
However that may be, the peoples consent to yield
themselves to the discretion of the modern world.
May the monster leave them some scraps of a liberty
that is still honorable enough for them to think of
cultivating their souls. There will not be lacking
men of good will who will be glad to devote them-
selves to directing this liberty, to transforming the
meaning and the demands of joy, propagating a cul-
ture which, unlike those old errors, will support edu-
cation more readily than instruction, men who will
ON THE REIGN OF THE HEART 197
more often address themselves to the heart than to
the disastrous reason.
France has suffered, suffers and will suffer more
deeply than all the other countries of the world.
She is at once the altar and the holocaust. She has
sacrificed her men, her cities, and her soil. It is in
the heart of her beautiful fields that the devastating
storm whirls and roars.
In the depths of my soul I hope that, because of
this great grief, it will be France that will give the
signal for redemption. I hope that the reign of the
heart will begin just here where the old civilization
will leave imperishable traces of its murderous folly.
The resources of the French people in persever-
ance, in self-reliance, in goodness, in subtle delicacy
are so great that one feels a word would suffice to
rally all hearts and give them their bearings. One
feels that at the mere phrase " moral civilization "
thousands and thousands of noble heads will nod ap-
proval, thousands of hands will reach out to find each
People who have obstinate views on the political
meaning of wars, on the eminently economic nature of
the peril that has been run by humanity, and on the
efficacy of the industrial and scientific civilization,
will not fail to proclaim that France ought first of
198 THE HEART'S DOMAIN
all to return to its furious task and apply itself to
surpassing the peoples that have outstripped it along
But France has always been the country of initia-
tion and revelation. It is the chosen land of spiritual
revolutions. May the bloody baptism it has received
give it precedence in the discussion of the future !
Do you wish it to lose the glorious rank it holds in
the moral order, at the head of the nations, that it
may fall in line behind the peoples who are enslaved
by automatism and swear allegiance to a worn-out,
condemned, bankrupt social and economic religion?
If the destiny of our country is to make a human-
ity that is plunged in affliction give ear to the words
of peace, consolation and love, let it accomplish this
beautiful mission, let it teach the other peoples the
generous laws of the true possession of the world.
My work is finished, and now the time has come
for me to part with it.
It is going off into this misty autumn night. My
heart is both glad and sorrowful.
It is going away from me, henceforth to follow a
destiny of its own that will no longer depend only
upon my love.
I shall turn to other duties, I shall assume other
cares. A voice tells me that they will always be the
ON THE REIGN OF THE HEART 199
same duties, the same cares, and that there is no
longer but one great task for men, one single task
with a hundred radiant aspects.
It is late. The night is drawing to a close ; it is
calm and yet penetrated with a vast, subdued mur-
mur of joy. They say it is one of the last nights of
I hear about me the panting breath of the wounded.
There are several hundred of them ; they are sleeping
or longing for sleep and rest. Their burning breath
is like a lamentation. Many of them will never see
the peace they have so dearly bought. They are
perhaps the wounded of the last battle, the last vic-
tims, the last martyrs.
Over the whole face of the world souls are suffer-
ing with them, for them, souls which the angel of
death laboring here this night will not deliver.
My work is finished. It begins to withdraw from
me. If it can bring any consolation to a single one
of these suffering souls, let me believe that it has ful-
filled its destiny.
- J IJJIH JUI
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